Veterans Upward Bound in downtown Kansas City, Kan., readies veterans for college

06/27/2014 3:33 PM

06/29/2014 9:10 PM

The posters on the wall at Veterans Upward Bound in downtown Kansas City, Kan., look like those that good teachers put up to inspire students.

A line drawn through the word “can’t” appears on one. Another offers 10 Tips for School Success and includes such basics as arrive to class on time; be prepared with pen, pencil, paper and completed homework; listen actively, be focused and involved; take detailed notes; ask questions; and find a quiet place to study.

It’s necessary to better prepare the men and women who have served in the military for college. Having the money or financial aid isn’t enough. Many of the first-in-their-family college students need the extra help that Veterans Upward Bound provides.

“High school was not important in life for a lot of veterans,” said Art Schaaf, adviser/recruiter for the program administered by the University of Kansas School of Education. “The basic fundamental education is lacking. English, math and science are particularly perishable skills.”

Veterans Upward Bound is free and serves Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties in Kansas and Cass, Clay and Jackson counties in Missouri. The program assesses veterans’ academic skills and starts them on college-prep coursework.

Many then attend Kansas City Kansas Community College or one of the Metropolitan Community Colleges.

Bobby Boyd, 60, of Leavenworth, counts himself as one of Veterans Upward Bound’s successes. He was in the Marine Corps from 1972 to 1974. Through the program he picked up computer and math skills in 2013, enabling him to enroll at Kansas City Kansas Community College. He’s now a construction trade supervisor for Veterans Affairs, where he trains other veterans in the construction trades.

“They were on me but in a good way,” Boyd said. “They finally got me believing in myself. I could not have done all of this without Veterans Upward Bound.”

Kevin L. Pierson, an Army vet who served from 1985 to 1992, agreed. “There should be more programs like this providing veterans with the help that’s needed,” said Pierson, 54 of Leavenworth, who is a Kansas City Kansas Community College computer programming student.

Many veterans struggle to get good paying jobs. Aging vets find that physically they can’t keep up manual labor demands.

“We do see retraining as a path back to employment,” Schaaf said. “What we want to do is get them thinking outside their paradigm.”

Julia O’Dell, director of Veterans Upward Bound, said the program ensures that low-income vets are better prepared to get college degrees.

Veterans Upward Bound “levels the playing field” for veterans seeking diplomas, said Lisa Schley, academic adviser for the program.

Data show that most of the nearly 2,000 people who have gone through Veterans Upward Bound were men, 51 percent were white, 46 percent African-American and 5 percent Hispanic.

Of the participants, 75 percent were unemployed, 40 percent were age 46 to 55, 24 percent age 36 to 45 and 20 percent were age 26 to 35.

“At the end of the day, we want our veterans to be good consumers of the educational product,” O’Dell said.

Schaaf said the program helps build computer skills for older veterans, which they need for college. Younger Iraq and Afghanistan veterans “have a different communication style,” Schaaf said. They usually are computer and social media proficient.

However, many live on what Schaaf called “social media islands.”

They might be at a library seeming to talk and laugh to themselves, but they’re on a machine. Veterans Upward Bound helps connect them with the real world and older veterans to virtual learning.

Getting all vets to succeed in college and life is the mostly unsung mission of Veterans Upward Bound.

To reach Lewis W. Diuguid, call 816-234-4723 or send email to ldiuguid@kcstar.com.

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