UMSL Bridge Program

Bridge Program students come from a range of academic backgrounds – public schools, private schools and homeschooled – and they include people from every racial, ethnic and socioeconomic group. Since 2003, 100 percent of Bridge graduates have matriculated to college. (Photo courtesy of Bridge Program)

The University of Missouri–St. Louis’ Bridge Program has been preparing high school students of every background for college success since 1986.

It has developed one of the most successful and widely emulated models for comprehensive, year-round college preparation programming in the country, providing academic enrichment courses in mathematics, science and written and oral communication, as well as personal and professional development and college planning through its Express Scripts Saturday Academy.

Nearly 150 senior participants graduate from the Bridge Program each year, and since 2003, 100 percent of them attend college.

On March 6, students, their families, and the Bridge Program team will gather virtually to celebrate that history as well as the particular accomplishments of its approximately 500 current students in the program’s 35th annual Award Recognition Ceremony. The hour-long event will be live-streamed at at 10 a.m. Individuals may register by visiting no later than March 5.

“Each year at the conclusion of the Saturday Academy, we provide a culminating event for Bridge Program students and their families,” said Natissia Small, UMSL’s assistant provost for access and academic support. “We felt that it would be important to not compromise this momentous occasion for their successful completion of the Saturday Academy and give special attention to their resilient ability to persevere during such unprecedented times.”

Basketball great Lisa Leslie will deliver the keynote address. Leslie was a role model for a generation of women’s basketball players during her career as an eight-time WNBA All-Star, three-time WNBA MVP and four-time Olympic gold medalist. She also has worked as a studio analyst for Orlando Magic broadcasts on Fox Sports Florida. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in communication and later went on to earn her MBA.

The event will also showcase ninth- through 12th-grade students who participated in the program over the past year with special recognition for the graduating seniors.

This year’s seniors collectively have been accepted to more than 130 colleges and universities with $4 million in scholarships and counting.

The teachers and administrators who run the Saturday Academy will have an extra sense of pride as they mark the end of this challenging year.

“When COVID hit, we didn’t know how we would really be able to move forward with the Summer Academy events, let alone the Saturday Academy,” said Channon Peoples, the director of precollegiate student services. “But we knew we couldn’t let our students and families down. Our team and the instructional staff rose to the challenge to provide exceptional programming for students.”

Teachers and administrators used the Summer Academy as a pilot for how they could deliver instruction in a virtual format, and they were able to redevelop the curriculum seamlessly. The Bridge Program staff and instructors held regular classes for students in October and January, and workshops for parents and students on the first Saturday of each month from October through February. In addition, designated office hours gave students an opportunity to visit with their teachers and receive additional guidance and course support.

The Bridge Program isn’t simply designed for students. It also provides guidance to parents through once-a-month seminars on how to support their students’ learning and help them navigate the college admissions process, including helping fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as FAFSA, and how to search for scholarship opportunities.

“We could not be more grateful for cultivating the connection we have with parents that participate in the Saturday Academy Parent Program,” Small said. “The parent and student voice has remained critical for the execution of the program’s workshops, and this strong partnership has allowed us the opportunity to provide access to resources that will remove barriers that impede college matriculation.”

Bridge students come from a range of academic backgrounds – public schools, private schools and homeschooled – and they include people from every racial, ethnic and socioeconomic group.

The one thing they’ve typically had in common over 35 years is that they’ve hailed from somewhere within the St. Louis region, but COVID-19 precautions presented an opportunity to expand Bridge’s reach this year because students didn’t have to be dropped off on campus on Saturday mornings.

The majority of students remain local, but Bridge has counted 18 active students from as far away as Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

“It has been exciting to witness students coming together from near and far, sharing their perspectives and experiences,” Peoples said. “I can say with confidence that we’ve all grown and are more energized than ever to continue engaging, empowering and educating students for generations to come.”

Small and Peoples are working to continue to expand Bridge’s reach to help prepare even more students for college success.

“We remain committed to providing college access,” Small said. “We will continue to address the critical need to prepare students in advance and demystify the pathway to academic achievement and lifelong success. We could not be more grateful for the partnerships established with parents, K-12 educators and corporate and community leaders that have contributed to the program’s success.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik