As Deloris Robertson-Lovell asked questions to her class about “Warriors Don't Cry,” by Melba Pattillo Beals, she sought responses that transcended plot summary.
“When you read Chapter Four, how did you feel?” she asked.
The students in the class grappled with the question, imagining how a teenage girl felt in the midst of working, with eight other students, to integrate Little Rock's Central High School amid harrowing threats of violence in 1957. Melba Pattillo Beals was among the Little Rock Nine, and “Warriors Don't Cry” is an account of her experience.
Robertson-Lovell chose the book carefully. A retired educator from the Pine Bluff School District with 47 years of experience, she's teaching a group of students in the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's Upward Bound program. And the students are thinking hard about the whole concept of education.
As part of the Upward Bound program, they're participating in six-week summer program, during which they take enrichment classes — such as Robertson-Lovell's English course — and they stay in residence halls on campus from Sunday night to Friday afternoon for six weeks.
“It's like we're actually in college,” said Xavier Carter, a 16-year-old who will be senior at Watson Chapel High School next year, during Robertson-Lovell's class on Friday morning.
Creating that feeling within students appears to be a crucial part of the Upward Bound program.
“Our students are college-bound,” said Tenita Shannon-Gragg, director of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's Upward Bound Program, as she spoke in her office on Friday. “They have aspirations to go to college. They may not know how to get there, but they want to attend.”
Shannon-Gragg said the federally funded Upward Bound program is designed to provide academic, social and other forms of support to future first-generation college students, currently in high school, who come from households with low-income as defined by federal standards.
“Our number one goal is to get that student out of high school and into college and graduated from college,” she said.
Sometimes, she noted, clear career directions may be helpful — but those directions don't have to be rigid. She suggested a student exploring college for the first time may be helped by having some time to explore.
“If you grew up with a houseful of doctors, your inclination may be to be a doctor,” she said. “We don't need to motivate you in that area. But these students come from households where their parents don't necessarily have a degree field, so we try to expose them to (many) options.”
Various cultural activities and a summer work-study component of the program help students to contemplate potential careers.
“Our students actually work in the departments here on campus as part of a work-study program four afternoons a week,” she said. “So they get to shadow … interact and see these different job skills and professions.”
That means they might get glimpses of how music departments work, for instance, or how athletic offices are run at a university level.
The students also take a cluster of enrichment courses in fields such as English, math, science, computers and foreign language. Shannon-Gragg said currently active and retired teachers are staffing many of the teaching positions, and university students serve as tutors.
During the school year, students meet every other Saturday, Shannon-Gragg said.
Students participating in the program receive stipends of $40 a month during the academic year and $45 a month during the summer session. During the summer they also make $7.50 an hour for eight hours of work-study each week, and they receive room and board.
The program's capacity stands at 76 students.
For McKenzy Broom, who will be a senior at Dollarway High School this coming school year, Upward Bound's summer session creates an academic rhythm unlike what she's experienced in high school.
“When they give us homework in high school, we can finish it in school,” she said. “We don't have time to finish it in class here. We have to go back to our dorms and work on it.”
The class Robertson-Lovell's was teaching on Friday contained eight students, easing the way for lots of interaction. Deantae Cooper, one the students in class, said he appreciated the interaction, including the times it involved being corrected for grammatical mistakes.
Grammar and sentence structure played prominent roles in Robertson-Lovell's class, though she often cultivated more analytical discussion, as well. She asked students to correct sample sentences on the board, and sometimes she noted corrections when students spoke — all the while wearing a shirt that read, “I am silently correcting your grammar.”
Students seemed to take it all in stride, and as they reflected on the experience at the end of a class session on Friday, they returned to the thought of how well they work together and challenge each other.
“When she (Robertson-Lovell) challenges us, we compete against each other,” said Destiny Kilgore, who'll be a senior at Watson Chapel High School.
It's not only the high school students who are exploring. Nautica Harris, an Upward Bound tutor in Robertson-Lovell's class, is also contemplating her future. Harris is going to be a junior at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff this coming school year.
“I have an interest in counseling (high school students), and I wanted to take this job and see if that would be a good fit for me,” she said.
In some ways, this sort of reflection on education, and on the future, traces back to Robertson-Lovell's choice of “Warriors Don't Cry” as a text for this Upward Bound English class. She believes students can connect deeply with the Little Rock Nine.
“They (the Little Rock Nine) were the same ages as the students are now,” said Robertson-Lovell.
Then she contemplated the message she wanted to send to the students.
“They made such great contributions to history,” she said, “and you can do the same.”
The program incldes students who are moving into ninth grade through the 12th grade, Shannon-Gragg said. People with questions, including those about application, may call 870-575-8517 or visit http://www.uapb.edu/academics/school_of_education/upward_bound.aspx.