To hear his teachers tell it, Duwan Morris is a genius. An incoming high school sophomore, he has been involved in academic enrichment programs at Triton College and elsewhere since sixth grade, plays clarinet and will take AP Spanish next year”and, two weeks ago, he represented Triton’s chapter of Upward Bound at a conference in Washington, D.C.
“Duwan is brillant. He is very able to present himself well,” said Bertha Zagore, the director of Triton’s Upward Bound program, one of two federally-funded pre-college programs for first-generation and low-income students that participated at the 16th Annual National Student Leadership Congress. Zagore picked Morris to represent Triton’s program at the conference, where students met with politicians and explored Washington D.C.
Usually, Zagore would recommend a rising senior for a conference such as this one, “but I felt he had the maturity to do it,” she said.
Morris started taking classes at Triton as a sixth grader in the version of the Upward Bound program for sixth through eighth graders called Genesis.
“I had friends in the program, and then my mom got wind of it,” Morris said. “I did every well on my exam … and they notified me that I was going to start in September.”
To get in, an applicant must be a low-income or first-generation student; he or she must take an entrance exam and be interviewed if he or she scores in the top 30 percentile. In the Genesis program, students take four classes”algebra, computer technology, Spanish and English”on Saturdays during the school year, and Monday through Friday during the summer.
Morris excelled in the Genesis program, through which he was invited to his first conference in Washington, D.C.: the Junior National Student Leadership Conference.
“That was really fun,” Morris said. He didn’t know he was nominated to go until he received a “nicely sealed envelope” in the mail that outlined the $1500 cost of the conference (a cost Morris met through church donations) and the activities in Washington, D.C., namely, meeting new people and honing leadership skills.
“It was great. Once in a lifetime,” he said. “We went sight-seeing a lot. We had a lot of leeway … we had little assignments, but we also had free time, testing our responsibility skills.”
The conference he attended two weeks ago, however, was through the Upward Bound program.
“Many of the [Genesis] students decide to ask if they can join the Upward Bound program when the time is appropriate,” Zagore said, and that’s what Morris did, taking classes in English, geometry, Spanish 2, ecology and earth science, and biology during the school year and over the summer.
Steve Valgrino, who has taught Morris for the past two years in ecology and earth science and biology, had nothing but praise for him, adding that he was “not at all” surprised to find that Morris had been chosen to represent Triton’s Upward Bound program at the Annual National Student Leadership Congress.
“As a matter of fact, I think he would be at the top of the list,” if Valgrino to choose a student to represent the program, he said.
“Duwan is a bright kid, very articulate, very inquisitive, asks a lot of great questions,” Valgrino said. These traits are especially important for a student in a discussion-based class like Valgrino’s.
“That why I think he was such a good kid to have in class… He has…a unique perspective. He’d be a great candidate to get into science if he so chose,” Valgrino said.
Morris is considering a career in pharmacology, and he hopes to attend Xavier University medical school: “When I was young, I used to catch a cold all the time, summer, winter, didn’t matter. People would ask me what I wanted to do; I wanted to find a cure for the common cold, so I guess that’s where my motivation [to be a pharmacist] comes from.”
“He was moved into the sophomore group [last year] as a freshman,” Valgrino said, “and he more than held his own in that class, both socially and academically. Duwan is a very mature, composed young man.”
Morris had no problem with planning his free time in Washington two weeks ago.
There was “a lot of freedom for us,” he said. “Basically, they took us to Washington D.C., said this is your appointment, this is where you have to be. Everything was set up … my first appointment was with Senator Durbin. He, along with all the rest of the senators and congressmen [we visited], asked us questions about the program, because the funding was about to be cut, which is what this whole conference was about.
Basically, [the conference] let me know that these programs could be cut at any time. And I’ve been taking Upward Bound classes since sixth grade. This trip opened my eyes to the reality that these programs could be cut, and also that we have a say in what happens. As a result of the conference, the program won’t be cut,” Morris said.
The informal, 15-minute sessions were a way for politicians to hear the effects of the Upward Bound program before voting on whether or not to cut funds, and also for the students to ask questions.
Morris is involved with Spanish Club at his high school, Providence-St. Mel, in Chicago, he is in Symphonic Band (it’s his fourth year playing clarinet), and he writes poetry in his spare time. He attends Upward Bound on Saturdays during the school year and Monday through Friday during the summer, except for the days when he can’t make it to Upward Bound because he’s at Link-Unlimited, a program that provides tuition for kids to attend private schools like Providence-St.Mel and allows them to take classes in learning strategies and geometry.
“It keeps me busy,” Duwan’s mother, Robin Moore, said. “It is a juggle in the schedule, because Monday through Friday he’s at Providence-St. Mel, the on Saturdays, he’s at Upward Bound, then the Link-Unlimited program … it keeps me busy, and I work! I work, but I do it all in good faith because I know the outcome will be good. I want to broaden his horizons.”