Cigna Foundation awards $200,000 grant to support Bridge Program’s Saturday Academy

Bridge Program Saturday Academy Students holding signs that say Engage, Empower, Educate

Students of every background from across the St. Louis area and beyond have benefited from the Bridge Program’s Saturday Academy, which provides courses in mathematics, science and written and oral communication as well as career, personal and professional development. The Cigna Foundation is continuing to support that work with a new $200,000 grant. (Photo courtesy of Channon Peoples)

The Cigna Foundation is helping the University of Missouri–St. Louis continue its longstanding efforts to prepare area high school students of every background for college success through the Bridge Program‘s Saturday Academy.

The charitable arm of Cigna, the parent company of longtime Bridge Program benefactor Express Scripts, has awarded a $200,000 grant to continue supporting the free program, which has been providing college preparation courses since 1986.

“We’re proud that the Cigna Foundation will continue what the Express Scripts Foundation started seven years ago,” said Susan Stith, president of the Cigna Foundation. “By partnering with the UMSL Bridge Program, we’re able to address and positively impact the education and workforce development of high schoolers in St. Louis. We know that if we can help advance students from high school to college, and help them stay there, they will live happy, healthier, longer, more productive lives as adults – and their success will impact and influence future generations to come.”

“We are extremely grateful for Cigna’s gift,” said Natissia Small, UMSL’s vice provost for access, academic support and workforce integration. “Cigna’s ongoing funding support affords us the opportunity to provide comprehensive educational access programming to thousands of students and parents in the St. Louis region and beyond by significantly impacting college preparedness, matriculation and persistence to degree completion.”

Last year, 272 students, including 53 seniors, completed the program virtually, taking classes in mathematics, science and written and oral communication. Bridge also places a strong emphasis on career, personal and professional development through additional structured courses for all participants in the Saturday Academy.

Participating parents also had the opportunity to take part in variety of well-rounded workshops specifically designed to provide effective strategies for supporting the growth and development of their college-going students through the Bridge Program Saturday Parent Academy.

“Our tagline – Engage. Empower. Educate. – is in optimal practice during the Saturday Academy where 700+ students and parents are immersed in timely workshops designed to prepare them for the road ahead,” Bridge Program Director Channon Peoples said. “The Cigna grant is helping us open the door to the many possibilities of postsecondary education by providing project-based STEM learning opportunities, ACT preparation, writing and dialogue strategies, college preparation, and career development.”

The Saturday Academy is held on the first two Saturday mornings each month from October through February, and the Parent Academy takes place on the first Saturday morning each month.

Since 2003, 100% of graduates from the Saturday Academy have matriculated to college. Members of this year’s senior class were admitted to more than 120 colleges, universities and other institutions of higher education nationwide. More than 70% of them received two or more scholarship offers with 15% receiving full-tuition scholarship offers. Notably, approximately 54% of Bridge participants attend UMSL annually.

“As an urban anchor institution, UMSL continues to exhibit a strong commitment to eliminating barriers that impede access to higher education, and the Bridge Program is a critical piece of that work,” Small said. “Bridge is a unique access program with proven results of changing the trajectory of lives through engaging middle and high school students and families in holistic programming that promote academic and lifelong success. Cigna is a valued partner that supports the mission and goals of what we offer to the St. Louis community and beyond.”

The Saturday Academy is not the only way the Bridge Program supports area middle and high school students. It provides a variety of virtual commit to success college prep workshops and sponsors after-school clubs at nine area school districts during the year. Bridge kicks off its Summer Academy for seventh through 10th graders in June and July.

This year’s Summer Academy begins next Tuesday and will run through mid-July, giving students the chance to participate in critical thinking activities in math, science, writing, professional development – all courses intentionally designed to increase student performance on college entrance exams and increase performance well on college entrance exams. They will also participate in professional development workshops to help them start to identify careers and develop a focused plan to pursue them.


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