On a sleepy Sunday morning in Helena, nearly 40 high school junior and seniors from Helena, Butte and the surrounding areas filled a chartered bus beginning a three-day tour of college campuses. Most of these students are either first-generation college students or from low income families. For those students, this kind of trip — specifically designed to expose students to higher education opportunities — would be impossible.
The students are part of federal Trio programs Talent Search and Upward Bound, managed though the Department of Education and Montana Tech. The programs are designed to indentify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Brittany Belgarde is a senior at Helena High School who went through a difficult time when her parents got divorced. She says she considered running away to avoid any conflict at home. Her grades weren’t great, and her attitude was worse.
The 17-year-old credits Upward Bound for her motivation, good grades and hope for a college degree.
“It helped me a lot,” Belgarde said. “I would be lost with it. It has helped me get through the struggles in life and kept me positive.”
Although no campus tours were available on Sunday, the students, along with five chaperones, spent the day traveling, talking about college and seeing a few sights along the way. The first was the Tautphus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
It was the first time Belgarde had been to the zoo. And, she says, if these programs didn’t allow her to visit colleges, she wouldn’t have the opportunity. Belgarde says she knows that through the program she gains life experiences as well as college preparation.
CHS junior Kirsten Roeder started in Talent Search in sixth grade and is hoping the coaches in the program help her land some scholarships.
“(Talent Search) has helped me focus on doing homework and keeping my grades up by knowing that I have a support system away from home,” Roeder said.
Michelle Christianson, director of Talent Search for Montana Tech, said the program is intended to give kids a chance to better their lives and show them how to do it.
And the trip makes it all the more real.
Breeinna “Breezi” McDougall is a senior at Butte High School and has been in Talent Search since middle school.
“My family is very low-income, so it’s hard to afford stuff like this,” she said. “(Talent Search) made me realize what college is all about and what I need to get ready.”
The program is helping McDougall prepare for the ACTs and covering the costs.
Today the group will visit the University of Utah and Westminster College.
Read more in Tuesday’s Independent Record.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or Alana.email@example.com