A few months ago, I was invited to join an online reading group for local high school students through Santa Ana College’s Upward Bound program called the “Apocalypse Book Club.”

As a new member of the program, the name caught my attention mainly because of our near-apocalyptic reality this year. At school, we tend to read texts like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Giver, if we study long-form literature at all anymore. Teachers follow a strict schedule resulting in student discussion becoming limited and controlled. But this club was different—we had space to read during class, and then the discussions afterward were all led by the students. We controlled the sensitive topics and knew when was the appropriate time to end.

Upward Bound is a federal academic outreach program offering high school students more support in their preparations for college. It was established as part of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and is considered to be one of the “most popular and productive social programs” to help reduce long-term poverty through educational advancement.

The Upward Bound program is valuable for students like me because it provides regular tutoring to help with challenging coursework, personalized counseling for both myself and my parents. Along with field trips to tour college campuses and important cultural sites. Recent college students lead the tutoring sessions; it provides a classroom environment for us to concentrate during our chaotic period. They serve as influential mentors who share their personal experiences and teach us about navigating college as first-generation and low-income students.

The Upward Bound community has made a grueling effort to inspire students like me and continue to outdo themselves. Without this program, many Santa Ana students wouldn’t have the ongoing assistance and encouragement to be ready and successful through their education after high school. Nor would we have a variety of opportunities for academic enrichment like this online reading club.

We started this spring reading Parable of the Sower by the Macarthur Genius award-winner Octavia Butler. It is a futuristic novel set in 2024 about a fifteen-year-old girl living in a world on the verge of collapse due to massive climate change, political corruption, and economic upheaval. Even though the situation in the book is dire, the teenage protagonist has hope for a“brighter and more equitable future.”

It has been interesting to read a book like Parable of the Sower with other teens during this pandemic since it shares many parallels with our world today. The opening chapters introduce readers to Lauren Olamina’s community which is barricaded by gates in order to protect against outsiders and criminals, though the threats overwhelm their lives constantly. Rain is rare like it has been here in California, and fires erupt all around them, but water is too precious for putting them out. The government is unprepared whenever a disaster strikes, not unlike what happened recently in Texas.

Another connection we examined together is how the economic inequities in their society spiral the community into chaos and injustice; eventually forcing Lauren to leave her home to survive. The novel never strays too far away from reality. As readers—similar in age and mindset as the protagonist— we inserted ourselves into the story, imagining how we or our community might survive if ever confronted with such challenges.

As a first-generation student, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between my parents and Lauren. Parable of the Sower depicts the struggle of many immigrants, specifically how they must leave behind everything they know in order to survive. Like Lauren, the reasons why people immigrate vary but include inescapable violence, disastrous environmental factors, and the belief in better opportunities elsewhere, though these barely scratch the surface. Because my parents followed a similar path as Lauren—migrating in hopes of finding a better community—I now have multiple opportunities to learn and thrive.

A parable, we learned as part of this club, is “a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.” And Butler’s book Parable of the Sower gave us Upward Bound students a way to talk about the future and prepare for how we want to make it better.

Stephania Sanchez is a student at Valley High School in Santa Ana. She joined Upward Bound in early 2021 because she was interested in the academic support and connections offered as part of the program to help her prepare and eventually succeed in her post-secondary education. Along with enrichment opportunities like field trips and the online book club.

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