Take On Life

Brian Koonz on life in Greater Danbury

Danbury kids fight to save life-changing college program

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Hi everyone,

When Socheata Thai tells you life was hard in Cambodia, she means it.

“I moved here when I was 6 years old,” said Socheata, a sophomore at Danbury High School. “We came from a very small village. I didn’t go to school and I pretty much wore the same clothes every day.

“We didn’t know the (English) language when we came here,” Socheata added. “And we really didn’t know anything about college — how to pay for it, how to apply for it. We didn’t know anything.”

Thanks to TRIO — a group of federally funded programs that help kids from low-income families ramp up to college — Socheata knows a lot more about good grades, writing a surefire college essay, studying for the college boards, and applying for admission and financial aid.

At least for now.

The TRIO programs, including the Upward Bound program that Socheata attends at Western Connecticut State University with more than 100 other Danbury kids, are on the chopping block in Washington as part of the debt ceiling debate.

Is this really where we want to cut back?

Is it really worth cutting $26 million — literally, .000186 percent of a $14 trillion debt ceiling — to stop kids like Socheata from going to college, earning a degree, and making a better world for herself and her country?

I don’t think so.

Consider: Twenty-one students from Danbury’s Upward Bound program and its state counterpart, the Connecticut Collegiate Awareness and Preparation program, will attend college this fall at WestConn, UConn, Wesleyan, George Mason, Rochester Institute of Technology, Southern Connecticut, Central Connecticut, Norwalk Community College and Naugatuck Valley Community College.

And that’s just from Danbury.

These 21 at-risk students, who come from families where neither parent has a college degree in many cases, earned $179,197 in grants and scholarships to help pay for their college educations.

For Jenny Yung, a 15-year-old junior at Danbury High School who hopes to study pre-med in college, Upward Bound and ConnCAP are programs that are worth saving — not just for her, but also for her brother, John, a student at Rogers Park Middle School.

“Even though my parents didn’t go to college, they know how important education is for a better life,” Jenny said. “For underprivileged kids and kids from families with low incomes, this is a chance to get a college degree someday.

“The college tours we take, the SAT prep classes, the extra academic help, it really, really helps you,” Jenny said. “I know a lot more about what it takes to go to college than a lot of kids who are older than me.”

According to the Council for Opportunity in Education, more than 800,000 students across the country benefit from TRIO programs each year.

The kids come from every racial group — black, white, Asian, Hispanic and everything in between. They come in search of an education to earn a good living, and to contribute to the economy and tapestry of our nation.

TRIO isn’t a drain on America. It’s an investment in America.

Just ask media mogul Oprah Winfrey or ABC News journalist John Quinones.

Go ahead, ask actress Angela Bassett or former NBA superstar Patrick Ewing.

And don’t forget Franklin Chang-Diaz, America’s first Hispanic astronaut, a man who took advantage of TRIO as an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut.

All of these accomplished professionals are TRIO alumni.

“They don’t guarantee you a college degree with this program,” said Aelijah Ward, 17, a Danbury High School senior. “That’s up to you.”

To read more about saving TRIO, check out my “Take on Life” column Friday.

Exclusively in the print edition of The News-Times.

Categories: General
Brian Koonz

3 Responses

  1. Tom J says:

    My father lived through the great depression. Many times his family had to borrow from other families just to have a meal, pawn family possessions over and over again, etc.

    But he worked hard, got a job, and earned enough money to put his OWN kids through school.

    Surely the opportunity for an education helps these kids, but I am getting tired of people coming to the US and expecting the existing tax payer base to pay for them. Gives us cheaper rates, pay for us to go to school, all while trying to guilt people into “investing into America”.

    Well, is this program is so great why isnt Oprah paying for it ? How about Ewing ? Oprah is worth 2.6 billion, 26 million would be 1% of her net worth. How about paying it back.

    How about all the other Trio graduates – if this program is SOOOO good they must be doing wonderfully – how much are they putting back into the system ?

    Oh, and how about getting jobs, working for a few years, then going to school ? How about about joining the armed forces and earning an education. Why are you taking food of the plates of senior citizens who are on very limited fixed incomes so these lazy kids can “get an education”

    Hey – how about the HEARST family – they are worth billions, put your money where your mouth is, NT – how many kids are you paying for an education for ?

  2. Shaaron Cyrus-Ward says:

    As the parent of CONNCAP and Upward Bound students at Danbury High School, I can truly say that this program benefits our children on many levels. They are nurtured and strengthened, and challenged academically for the upcoming school year under the guidance of TRIO programs. Our children are exposed to physical, mental, social and intellectual challenges, and they are inspired by educators who don’t just play a role or provide a specified academic function. TRIO educators become mentors, up-close-and-personal role-models of leadership, character, determination and inter-dependence for our children: These educators believe in our kids, just like we do, as parents.

    In school and outside of school, in community service activities, TRIO teachers become more that just purveyors of the required Bd. of Ed. curriculum: They become our children’s advocate and ally. As parents we want the best for our children’s lives. Our sons and daughters will fulfill their potential to become ALL THAT THEY CAN BE when we INSPIRE them and urge them on. We demonstrate our belief in their future by investing in their lives today.

    TRIO/CONNCAP TEACHERS HELP LAUNCH OUR CHILDREN’S DREAMS: They set high expectations and are committed to realizing the academic and personal success of our sons and daughters, despite stressors in their lives. As counter-intuitive as it may seem in our techno-saturated world, it is not uncommon to see young people who have no set goals, who have become disaffected or distracted from their goals, or who have hastily concluded in their own minds that their dreams are simply unattainable because the pressures and obstacles they circum-navigate in their daily lives are so many, so fierce and so unforgiving. It takes steady hands and strong determination to encourage and inspire their hearts and minds, and to remind them of the greatness of their abilities and God-given potentials.

    As a society of families bound by similar goals, we ought to bet ON our children, not AGAINST them!!!! OUR FUTURE IS IN OUR HANDS and MONEY TALKS!!!

  3. Lisbeth Rivas says:

    This article really hits home!

    My sister recently graduated from Western Connecticut State University with a bachelors of science degree in nursing with high honors.All thanks to the Trio programs! She started off in their Middle School program and continued on to their High School program. Thanks to the Trio Programs my sister was the first one in our family to ever graduate college. She was the first out of my 14 cousins to graduate. I’m truly grateful and so is my family for having this program. It’s hard coming from another country with no education and not being able to speak the language. But with the help of this program my family has reached places that were thought to be almost impossible. I myself am currently apart of their Upward Bound Program and have to say cutting these programs is a mistake. Ive been apart of Trio Programs my entire life and it has changed it drastically.I would have ended up just about no where if it werent for the guidance of such great people. Upward Bound is my family and buy cutting it it will only tear us apart. I truly have to say if they do decide to cut these programs it’s a major mistake and in the long run the results will show. Why change something if it’s obviously only benefitting many people?
    -Lisbeth