Some of the greatest ambassadors for the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ Bridge Program were on stage on the morning of March 7 for the 34th annual Award Recognition and Closing Ceremony to mark the end of the Express Scripts Saturday Academy.
Emmanuel Morgan, a senior at Kirkwood High School, and Lauren Kohlman, a senior at Metro Academic and Classical High School, welcomed an audience of roughly 1,800 people to the Grand Ballroom at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis and shared a bit about their experiences from their time in the precollegiate program.
“I’ve been a participant in the Bridge Program since my freshman year, and it’s helped me in a multitude of ways,” Kohlman said. “Academically, it helped me understand subjects I wasn’t so sure about in school, and it gave me an understanding of college preparation as well.
“The social aspect is something I’m also extremely grateful for. Thanks to the Bridge Program, I have built a lifetime of knowledge and a lifelong connection with friends.”
Morgan, who plans to attend UMSL to study mechanical engineering beginning in the fall, expressed similar sentiments.
They later turned the microphone over to Pattonville High School senior Jeffrey Kircus, who began by describing his life as a young child, unable to speak between the ages of 3 and 5.
“Now that you know why my voice is very important to me, I would like to use it to express my love for this program,” he said as crowd members digging into their breakfast at tables across the ballroom. “The Bridge Program has been nothing short of amazing to me. At first, it started as some weird summer program my mom put me in, so I wouldn’t slack off during summer. But it became a lot more to me. Instead of her waking me up, I was waking her up. And I was always looking forward to when we went to class.”
Kircus intends to enroll in UMSL next fall to pursue a degree in education and wants to teach special education.
One could have found plenty of other people to trumpet the Bridge Program’s benefit, particularly among the 96 seniors and their parents dispersed among the audience on Saturday morning.
The Bridge Program has been providing free, year-round college preparation services to area high-school and middle-school students – and their parents – for more than three decades, and the Saturday Academy has long been an integral part of that effort.
Students in the Saturday Academy hail from 46 public and private high schools around the St. Louis region, stretching from communities such as Belleville and Alton in Illinois out to Timberland High School in Wentzville.
The students meet two Saturday mornings each month and take classes in mathematics, science and written and oral communication. They also learn to research careers, work on personal and professional development and receive help with college planning.
“For a great majority of our students, they have signed themselves up,” Bridge Program Director Channon Peoples said. “They’re excited about getting here. They’re dragging their parents out of bed and can’t be late to get here. But even for some of those students that were a bit more hesitant about participation – maybe because they feel like ‘I’m in honors and AP classes, what can this program really give to me?’ – they get here and they find out that they’re in a selective group of students who are here for the same thing. That is to build upon their foundational things in high school and to be challenged in their math and their science to receive ACT preparation and to get ready for the journey for college.
“That’s what the overarching goal of all of our classes are.”
The program offers valuable lessons to parents as well. The Parent Academy meets the first Saturday each month, October through March, helps educate parents on building healthy relationships and understanding generational difference as well as more practical details to help their children navigate the college selection and admissions process and how to search for scholarships opportunities.
Parents such as Lisa Greenlee are eager to recommend Bridge to others.
“He’s the first kid in our family – our first-time college student,” she said of her son, Jaylen, who is graduating from Pattonville High School this spring. “We really didn’t have much insight on college, so we decided, ‘Hey, let’s get in this program and figure it out.’ It took a lot of worry and fear that we had away.”
Keya Bryan’s mother was inspired to return to school to complete her bachelor’s degree while Keya was in the program. The Belleville East High School senior is also grateful for the guidance the program has provided her as she prepares for her own college future.
“I feel like this program has honestly helped me get to know what my strengths are and my weaknesses are, especially testing-wise for the ACT,” Bryan said. “I’ve had a chance to bond with people that I don’t even know and feel like I’m actually in a college setting, which I am on campus.”
Since 2003, 100 percent of Saturday Academy graduates have matriculated to college.
This year’s seniors collectively have been accepted to 130 colleges or universities and have been offered more than $5 million in scholarships.
A number of Bridge Program graduates – whether in the Saturday Academy, the Summer Academy or one of its after-school programs – choose UMSL to continue their studies, but the program’s staff tries to provide support no matter where they enroll.
“Our goal is to help students find the school that is the best fit for them,” Peoples said. “So, while we always put on our UMSL hat and encourage them if they’d like to come here and we have scholarships for our students, we support them in their journey if they select to attend somewhere else.”
Natissia Small, Assistant Provost for Access and Academic Support, believes the Bridge Program can continue to grow in its scope and impact.
“Bridge is an effective model that demonstrates what college access programming can do when it is grounded on a strong foundation,” Small said. “One of the aspirations I have is to expand our precollege initiatives offered to the St Louis community by creating additional unique experiences that will prepare students early for college and the workforce. As an institution committed to increasing the pipeline to college, I envision broadening our access programming opportunities, ultimately enriching and changing the lives of students in the St Louis community.”
It can remain a challenge for teenage students to give up four hours from a weekend morning twice each month to spend additional time in the classroom. They might not always see the benefits in real time.
But parents such as Jamell Robinson, who has observed the growth in his son Donaven, a Hazelwood Central High School senior, over the past four years, are confident they’ll appreciate what they gained later.
“Whether he understands it now or he understands it five years from now,” Jamell Robinson said, “he’s going to look back and be thankful.”