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Idalee Nunez reads to her class at Asbury Elementary in November 2018. Photo by John Arnold.

Bound to educate

Upward Bound helps low-income high school students pursue postsecondary education. Here's how it helped one student discover her calling to teach.

March 4, 2019

By Matt Watson

In the town of Tlajomulco de Zúñiga in Jalisco, Mexico, there’s a man who reads to the children whose parents can’t afford to send them to school. He takes on 50 pupils a semester – turning away hundreds more – because many families can’t pay for the supplies, food and even toilet paper that the schools require.

Idalee Nunez plans to teach elementary school in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga after completing her degree in early childhood education at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

It’s her parents’ hometown, a place she’s visited many times. Every visit she wondered: Why are there so many children selling candy and goods on the streets when they should be in school?

“I want to be a teacher there because they really need it,” Nunez said. “They want to learn and don’t have that opportunity.”

Idalee Nunez, an early childhood education student at MSU Denver, reads to her class at Asbury Elementary in November 2018. Photo by John Arnold.
Idalee Nunez, an early childhood education student at MSU Denver, reads to her class at Asbury Elementary in November 2018. Photo by John Arnold.

East High School senior Aiyanna Dennis works on an assignment during a TRIO High School Upward Bound summer program at MSU Denver. Photo by Mark Stahl

Learn and earn

Sisters Aiyanna and Tiyanna Dennis are students at East High School and Upward Bound participants.

They’re both busy students, so having a place at MSU Denver to do homework during the school year is extremely helpful. Both students have also been aided by paid internships Upward Bound provides.

Aiyanna (pictured above), a senior, worked at the SpringHill Suites on MSU Denver’s campus while Tiyanna, a junior, interned in Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center.

Upward Bound also helped the sisters maintain their respective academic momentum during summer break.

Last June and July, the sisters were on campus for six weeks, Monday through Thursday, taking courses such as financial literacy, biology, math and “Understanding Crime Through Crime Mapping.” On summer Fridays, Upward Bound students take field trips to mountain towns and cultural performances.

“(Upward Bound) really helped me throughout school, Aiyanna said. “I have a problem with procrastinating, so it keeps me accountable and it’s a great place to meet other people.”

She wants to study political science or law in college and credits Upward Bound for introducing her to a mentor with the same interests.

“It was nice to have someone who’s been through college teaching me about all the opportunities that would fit my personality,” she said.

 

From struggling student to student mentor

Nunez didn’t always have a passion for education – her own or providing one to others.

Her perspective changed after a friend helped her sign up for TRIO High School Upward Bound, a federally funded college preparatory program focused on helping low-income and first-generation high school students develop the skills and motivation necessary to graduate and pursue postsecondary education.

The friend introduced Nunez to Upward Bound after helping her with her homework.

“She said, ‘This is bad stuff. You need help.’” Nunez recalled. “I didn’t want to do it, so she filled out the application for me.”

That friend’s assistance turned out to be a critical moment for Nunez’s future.

Upward Bound is run out of MSU Denver’s Center for Urban Education and open to high school students from five Denver Public Schools: East, Lincoln, Manual, North and West High Schools. Student participants receive supplemental classroom instruction, homework assistance and career counseling and they  can take campus internships with a monthly stipend. They’re also provided transportation to and from campus and Tivoli Student Union food court vouchers.

Most importantly, Nunez said, Upward Bound assists participants in completing college applications and financial aid forms, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

“It helped tremendously,” she said. “I came in as a (high school) senior, and I didn’t know anything about FAFSA, or anything about MSU Denver. They helped me pick out my classes, fill out FAFSA forms and get a partial scholarship – I’m still using the money (Upward Bound) helped me get back in 2015.”

Nunez believes so much in the program that she was an Upward Bound mentor at MSU Denver for three years, helping high school students follow her footsteps to graduate high school and pursue postsecondary education.

Idalee Nunez, an early childhood education student at MSU Denver, plans to teach first grade in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Mexico, after she graduates. Photo by John Arnold.
Idalee Nunez, an early childhood education student at MSU Denver, plans to teach first grade in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Mexico, after she graduates. Photo by John Arnold.

Today, Nunez is preparing to earn her degree from MSU Denver and driven to educate others. She began her college career studying forensic science and even made the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll as a track and cross country runner before realizing the call to teach.

She’s doing field work at STEM Launch, a K-8 school in Adams 12 Five Star School District, and will complete a teacher residency and pursue a license to teach first grade in Mexico after that.

Her parents only received a sixth grade education, but they prioritized education for their children, Nunez said.

“As we grew up, they always told us, ‘We want you to do something better,’” she said.

She plans to – and she recently helped her younger brother fill out an Upward Bound application, just like her friend did for her.


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