Bridge Program propels students beyond high school toward college success

Brandon Leopold, a student at Hazelwood (Mo.) Central High School

Brandon Leopold, a student at Hazelwood (Mo.) Central High School, works on an assignment in a chemistry lab at UMSL. This summer, he participated in the UMSL Bridge Program, which provides college-access services to students from more than 100 St. Louis-area high schools. (Photo by August Jennewein)

For more than 25 years, the University of Missouri–St. Louis Bridge Program has served St. Louis-area students by bulldozing barriers to college entry and paving the way for the leaders of tomorrow.

The program was founded in 1986 and remains the university’s flagship precollegiate program. It provides comprehensive, year-round, college-access services to local middle and high school students who represent more than 100 public and private schools.

“Bridge works relentlessly in its efforts to ensure that all students are equipped with the skills necessary to attend college,” says Natissia Small, director of precollegiate programs at UMSL.

The main program components are two academies for ninth- through 12th-grade students.

The Saturday Academy selected 600 students to participate this year and runs for four hours the first two Saturdays of the month from October to March. It provides intensive instruction in math, science, writing and career development.

The Summer Academy nurtures students’ skills in the same areas as the Saturday Academy and runs four hours a day, Monday through Friday for four consecutive weeks. More than 300 students participated in the Summer Academy this year.

Students in both academies receive professional development opportunities through on-campus career fairs, professional speaker series, panel discussions and leadership development.

The program also emphasizes engaged parents. The Saturday Academy, for example, incorporates workshops for parents on many topics, including effective communication, understanding financial aid and navigating the college admissions process.

“Bridge is an investment both for the parent and the child,” says John Fagerlin, father of Melanie Fagerlin, a four-year participant in the program. “It is a worthwhile investment because it goes beyond preparing for college. Bridge teaches students lessons that they will keep throughout their college and professional career.”

Since 2003, under Small’s direction, 100 percent of program students have matriculated to college, representing enrollment in more than 90 post-secondary institutions. Small serves as an assistant dean of students with direct oversight of the Office of Precollegiate Programs, UMSL Bridge Program and Office of Multicultural Relations.

The UMSL Bridge Program is tailored to meet the growing financial needs of families with collegebound students.

“We’ve developed program workshops to deal with the challenges that students and families face around [financial issues],” Small says. “This is a critical area in which support must be provided to families. The rising expense of education can hinder college access, selection and time of matriculation.”

Kelcy Siddall earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at UMSL in 2008. He’s also an alumnus of the UMSL Bridge Program.

“Bridge gave me a realization that college was attainable,” Siddall says. “It defined what was possible and showed me that I was capable of attending college and succeeding.”

Local educators agree.

“Bridge is an awesome opportunity to learn college and career skills,” says Art J. McCoy II, superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant (Mo.) School District. “This program involves an institution the caliber of UMSL in partnership with school districts, providing the opportunity to change a child’s life.”

That’s exactly what Ronda Fitch says the program did for her son, Reybren.

“I have watched my son evolve into a more confident and focused young man as a result of his participation in the program,” she says.

Fitch also says the program played a major part in her decision to re-enroll in college to finish her post-secondary degree – precisely the type of impact the program seeks to have on students and parents, Small says.

“We believe in removing barriers and stumbling blocks for students and parents who are seeking access to higher education,” she says. “We remain committed to providing college access for every student who desires a college education.”


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