Originally piloted in the summer of 2010, the Berkeley High Bridge Program has provided support for students, often first generation to college or students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, while preparing them for college and helping them build academic skills, as stated on Berkeley Unified School District’s Bridge website.
Not only does the program work to keep students on track from their freshman to their senior year, but it also provides many resources related to the college exploration and application process.
Touring nearby colleges is a major part of the program and, according to Meredith Irby, a Bridge teacher and one of Berkeley High’s librarians, is essential.
“I think the college visits are really important and really impactful. We went to UC Davis and Sacramento State last year, and just getting a sense of the campus and if they can see themselves there,” Irby said. The Bridge program plays an important role in making sure that its students have enough information to make informed decisions about their post-high school options.
Additionally, according to Luxford, in past years the program has also toured colleges such as Stanford University, Santa Clara University, and UC Santa Cruz.
The Bridge program’s college tours were interrupted by COVID-19.
“When we weren’t in school, we weren’t able to go. And now we’re playing catch up for all the cohorts that weren’t able to go,” Luxford said. Bridge is described in the 2018 Western Association of Schools and Colleges Report as a voluntary program for students who have the desire to attend college, specifically underserved students.
The report states, “Beginning with the summer session prior to 9th-grade year and continuing with daily afternoon meetings, weekend study sessions, and regular tutorials throughout their four years at Berkeley High School, Bridge students invest between 150 and 250 additional academic hours per year in their education.” Currently, Bridge serves four cohorts, totaling approximately 120 students per year.
According to Bridge Coordinator Jessie Luxford, while the program started as a three-and-a-half-week summer program for high school-bound eighth graders, over the years, it has been transformed into the current four-year program. Each cohort of Bridge students is assigned a teacher whose goals center around providing social and academic support throughout their high school years.
“I think that Bridge is really effective at helping students make sure they’re on track with their classes, and kind of being that extra support when they’re falling behind, and making sure that students are connecting with their teachers, working on their self-advocacy skills,” said Meredith Irby, a Bridge teacher and also serves as one of Berkeley High’s librarians.
Staffing shortages have also impacted the Bridge program.
Despite this, the program has continued thanks to Luxford’s dedicated leadership and the continuing efforts of staff.
“There’s been enough interest every year. And now what we’re trying to do is open it up for the counselors to lead the cohorts,” added Luxford.
Since the Bridge program is technically considered a class, only certified teachers can take on the role of cohort leader. As shared by Luxford, the Bridge program is currently trying to become an official program, which would allow counselors to have the position, hopefully eliminating the issue of staff shortages.
The benefits of the program have not gone unnoticed by the district, as according to the BUSD 2022 budget, the program received enough financial support for each cohort teacher to be fully funded for their role.
“It’s been one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Irby said, “I feel like I’ll know them after they graduate, and that’s really special. I’m really grateful for that experience.”