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Bridges program brings college within reach

Bridges students tour Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

It’s a rite of passage for some college-bound teenagers: Load up the car and head out to tour colleges during spring break.

But the cost of those trips adds up. And for students who would be the first in their family to attend college, figuring out how to even plan such a trip can seem insurmountable. Yet, for students who experience persistent poverty, college visits aren’t just about selecting which college to attend; a college visit can shape a students’ decision whether to attend college at all.

Bridges to a Brighter Future helps make the experience possible. The local college-access group works around the barriers that often keep low-income, underrepresented and first-generation students out of higher education. During its 23 years in Greenville County, Bridges to a Brighter Future has seen the impact spending time on college campuses can have on a student’s beliefs that he or she can actually attend college and graduate.

The program operates out of Furman University and hosts most of its year-round programming on campus. During students’ high school years with Bridges, they will tour an average of 30 colleges, with many visits happening during fall and spring break.

In April, Bridges students toured seven colleges in four days in Tennessee and North Carolina.

“Going on different trips with Bridges has helped guide my thinking as to where I want to study after high school and what I want to study, as well as how I’m going to get there,” said Greenville High School sophomore Jasmin Vidal. “This spring break trip definitely opened my eyes to new schools and cities where I can grow as a person and as a student.”

Community support

Feeding more than three dozen teenagers for four days is expensive enough. Then add in a bus and hotel rooms. These trips wouldn’t be possible without financial support from the community, from people who see the greater value to society when its youth receive education. The spring break trip was funded by the Cliffs Residents Outreach organization, which has become increasingly involved with Bridges over the past several years through mentoring and financial support. 

How do students become a part of Bridges?

Students are nominated for Bridges to a Brighter Future by their schools in the spring of the ninth-grade year. The program includes a one-month summer program at Furman the summers before 10th, 11th and 12th grades, plus a year-round component including monthly Saturday Colleges and regular school visits. Crossing the Bridge works with students from high school graduation through college graduation. Altogether, Bridges is a seven-year program that builds students’ character, resilience and confidence.

A comfortable environment

“The opportunity to tour universities with people I know and care about allowed for more thoughtful and insightful conversations,” said sophomore Kara Dias. “We were able to talk through the pros and cons of each university and discuss each other’s hopes and dreams for the future.”

Bridges college trips include big and small schools, public and private schools, research and liberal arts schools. Students speak with admissions representatives from institutions that have aid to help make college a reality for students like them.

Sophomore Sakyrio Stewart now has colleges in Tennessee and North Carolina on his application list.

“I really enjoyed this trip,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to look at more colleges and add more to my college decisions.”

For Berea High School sophomore Gabriel Wilson, the camaraderie of her peers enhanced the experience.

“The thing I found to be the best part of the trip was the experience of being with my Bridges family over the course of four days, which allowed me to feel comfortable in an unknown environment,” she said.

 

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