Natissia Small (far right) is the director of pre-collegiate programs at UMSL. High school students Rashad Moungo and Ayana Spann were recognized today for completing the university's Bridge Summer Academy.

For the last four weeks, 15-year-old Alexander Johnson got up early every day to attend the Bridge Summer Academy at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. His mother or grandparents drove 32 miles from Wentzville, Mo., to make sure he made it to campus by 7:45 a.m.

That kind of commitment was evident today when 230 high school students were recognized at a ceremony for completing the academy, which offers courses in mathematics, science and writing and helps prepare students for matriculation to college.

Parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers were on hand to congratulate the teens and thank teachers and staff for helping to point their children in the right direction.

Students praised the program for what they learned in a short time, even if their initial reaction to summer classes wasn’t positive.

“At first I wasn’t excited about this thing that was going to take up half my summer vacation,” said Jaemica Logan, 15 and a 10th grader at Hazelwood (Missouri) Central High School.

She was chosen to make a presentation on the subject of success, a major focus of most pre-collegiate programs at the university.

“My teachers said that the dictionary is the only place success comes before work,” Logan told her fellow students. “You need desire, you need a plan and then you need to make an effort to succeed. I also learned not to be afraid to ask questions and the meaning of the word network. The more people you know, the more places you’ll go.”

Rashad Moungo, an 11th grader at Parkway North High School in west St. Louis County, and Ayana Spann, a 10th grader at Riverview Gardens High School in Bellefontaine, Mo., served as master and mistress of ceremony.

“Before I came to summer academy, I thought I knew it all,” said Moungo, displaying a maturity beyond his years. “I was a typical teenager and didn’t think much about my future. But we learned about so many different career opportunities.”

He said he’s always wanted to be a lawyer, but he added business management, marketing and optometry to his list of possible career paths.

Spann, who said she “didn’t have a clue” about how she was going to land a reporting job at CNN, learned a lot about college expectations from one of her teachers.

“I learned that I had to major in journalism in college before getting to CNN, and now I’m looking at three different colleges with strong journalism programs,” Spann said.

Her teacher, Emerald Morrow, graduated from one of those schools and is an online producer at KMOV (Channel 4). Morrow said she taught school for a year before she landed her dream job.

“I love working with these children and inspiring them to follow their dreams too,” she said.

The summer academy is one of several UMSL pre-collegiate programs offered for ninth through 12th grade students throughout the St. Louis region. A Saturday academy offered in the spring and fall enrolls about 400 students. According to Natissia Small, director of the university’s pre-collegiate programs, 100 percent of the seniors since 2003 have been accepted to college. The 2009-2010 class of 80 students were accepted to more than 90 institutions including Washington University in St. Louis and Saint Louis University; Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.; Tuskegee University in Alabama; and all four universities in the University of Missouri System.

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Maureen Zegel

Maureen Zegel