Ds Scholarship

Strengthening the high school-to-college pipeline

Tavaria Smith has three tips for her students at Clark Central High School:

  1. Take school seriously.
  2. Take advantage of support programs such as Upward Bound.
  3. Never let anyone tell you that you are not worthy or that you cannot do it.

Through the Louise McBee Institute for Higher Education at the University of Georgia, Smith serves as a university counselor at Clark Central. And she adds a unique angle to her job – some of her students are her former peers.

Smith graduated from Clarke Central in 2019. With dual enrollment and Upward Bound, she attended UGA and earned her BA in African American Studies in just two years.

“Upward Bound was really how I got exposed to UGA,” Smith said.

The Upward Bound Program is a federally funded initiative designed to support traditionally underrepresented students through high school and higher education. UGA’s Upward Bound Program provides year-round instruction that includes tutoring, mentorship, preparatory workshops, and an intensive five-week summer program hosted at the UGA campus in Athens.

Smith joined the summer program after her sophomore year in high school. It was different from anything I had experienced before.

“I had never eaten in a dining hall before. I had never slept in a dorm before. It was such a real college experience,” she said.

Supporting first-generation low-income students

The lessons she took that summer prepared her for her junior year and connected her to the university community. When the college application process began, Smith found a support network through Upward Bound.

Tavaria Smith works as a college counselor at Clark Central High School where she graduated in 2019 (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

“I knew my mom wanted me to go to university,” she said. “My mom was my biggest influence, seeing how hard she worked as a single mom and encouraging me to do well in school, always pushing me. But she wasn’t able to answer the questions I had about starting the application process or how to use the fee waiver or even registration in the SAT or ACT.”

Through Upward Bound, Smith has found the answers to these questions and more, taking ACT boot camp, meeting with current UGA students, and touring colleges throughout the Southeast.

“I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to experience these things without Upward Bound,” she said.

Providing support for the epidemic

Upward Bound serves more than 200 students in Athens and surrounding counties. Because every student experience is unique, the program aims to meet students wherever they are. For example, during the pandemic, the Upward Bound program was associated with a licensed therapist in Athens.

“[The pandemic] “It has been difficult for our students,” said Sonya Bradford Davies, Upward Bound Director at UGA. “So we are able to offer therapy sessions in Athens to our students and their parents if needed.”

This culture of support doesn’t stop after high school. Upward Bound is administered by UGA’s Department of Academic Enhancement, and is part of TRIO Programs that also includes Student Support Services (SSS), a federally funded college retention and completion program.

“Upward Bound stands for the motto, ‘Family, Fun, and the Future.’ We are here to make sure that our students don’t just go to college, but graduate from college,” said Bradford Davis. “We help parents see that it is possible for their children to succeed, despite their current circumstances.”

Giving Back to Athena Clark County Students

A woman wearing a mask talking to a small group of high school students

Tavaria Smith shares many of the lessons she learned through UGA’s Upward Bound program. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Smith made sure to continue to be involved with the SSS and within the Athenian community. She joined Experience UGA, a partnership between the University of Georgia and the Clark County School District that brings students to campus for a taste of college life and academic programs. And when the opportunity came to return to her alma mater, Smith went for it.

“As a graduate of Clarke Central High School, Tavaria has certainly been an active contributor to our efforts to transform GLADs (Graduates – Leaders – Achievers – Decision Makers – Pursuit of Success) into alumni,” said Dr. Suad Hof, Clarke Principal. “She does a great job facilitating one-on-one meetings with students while also providing support to parents to assist our future graduates in their transition to the post-secondary institution of their choice.”

Smith’s pride in her local community keeps her motivated. And many of the lessons she learned through the Upward Bound program are now passing on to her students, such as taking advantage of tutoring and applying to college before the holidays.

“I feel like the students trust what I say because I was in their shoes not so long ago,” she said. “I tell them all the time that you can literally do anything you put your mind to. And I mean it.”

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