PLAINFIELD, NJ - Students from Plainfield High School and Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies, or P.A.A.A.S., graduated from Rutgers University Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math -Sciences Pre-College Programs on June 5.  The students and their families attended the ceremony held at the Bush Campus Student Center in Piscataway.

According to Gloria Montealegre, Community Engagement Liaison, twenty-two students from the Plainfield schools completed Humanities, Math & Sciences, Career Orientation and personal development courses.

Many of the students have been with the program since the 8th grade, and the four-year and two-year programs provide students with a path to college and careers. Students attend monthly workshops, tutoring, field trips, counseling and educational programs. Over the summer, students are able to spend six weeks on campus to experience college life and interact with their peers in the program as well as with other students at the university level.

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Lia Haynes, Salutatorian for PHS Class of 2019, said the program has been instrumental in her career choice. She will be attending Temple University where she hopes to graduate with a dance and business degree and return to Plainfield to open up her own dance studio.

Ashley Balbuena, who will be attending Rutgers University and has had connections to the program since she was in the sixth grade when she accompanied her older sister to meetings on family nights, said the Upward Bound Program has been like a second family to her.

“When I think of family, I think of Rutgers Upward Bound Program. A network of people to rely on for personal growth, support to uplift me and a tremendous amount of encouragement.  This is where I and many of my friends have flourished and expanded our horizons.

“I have become aware of the opportunities within the program that have led me to become a resident mentor, falling in love with the campus, going on trips, as well as wanting to give back to the program with as many contributions as I possibly can. It has been a remarkable experience being in this program. The type of experience I never want to leave. These past four years have been the best in my entire life. It’s a place I can refer to as home, as a second family. A place where I can excel, and a place that brings a smile to my face.”

Balbuena’s mother received the Community Service Award and credited Jackasha Wiley, Director Rutgers Upward Bound. and the program, saying, “Thank you for making my daughters into professionals and guiding them to a successful future.”

Balbuena and her family are active advocates for the program; they assist with advocacy campaigns, recruitment of bilingual students and identifying community partners. They vowed to remain as volunteers as long as they are needed.

RELATED:  Community Engagement Liaison for Plainfield Schools Receives Rutgers Upward Bound Award

Plainfield Schools have been participating in the program for more than 15 years; over 100 students in grade 9-12 participate annually.  Wiley is extremely proud of the program and the impact it has had on Plainfield students.  She has been working with the program since 2011 and was promoted to director in 2015.

“This has been full circle for me as an Upward Bound Alumnae and a Plainfield Graduate. Today we had the opportunity to graduate 22 Plainfield High School and PAAAS participants. We celebrate their post-secondary opportunities.

“Plainfield was honored today by the graduation of its students and the award to Community Liaison Gloria Montealegre as our Community Partner. Ms. Montealegre has assisted us with our Read to the Youth event, where we promote literacy and education, and we read to K-3 graders at the district schools and well as conduct college panels at Plainfield High School," Wiley added.

“Today was a great day to highlight our Plainfield Public School students as well as the Plainfield Public Schools staff for the great work that they do and the support they give the Rutgers New Brunswick Upward Bound program.”

Recruitment for the Rutgers Upward Bound Program will commence again in the new school year. The application deadline is the second week in the month of December. Students should ask the Guidance Office for the application or go online to to apply, according to Ezio Intriago, coordinator of the program.

For more information, call 908-731-4333 or email


About Upward Bound & Math-Science    Source Rutgers website 

The Rutgers Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math-Science Programs provide young scholars with a series of specialized preparatory services including tutoring, mentoring, advising, programming, college courses and on-campus experiences with research faculty to increase student persistence and graduation from high school and admission to institutions of higher education. Upward Bound is divided into two components. The academic year program is a series of specialized courses, STEM experiences, workshops, and programs. The summer component is a mandatory six-week summer institute where students are exposed to college level classes and student life led by highly trained faculty and staff. Read more about eligibility requirements.