Bridges to a Brighter Future
Bridges to a Brighter Future is a research-based, time-tested college access and personal development program that has served Grenville County youth since 1997. Our mission is to “transform the lives of students, whose potential outdistances their circumstances, by providing educational access and opportunity through a comprehensive program that builds self-confidence, resiliency, and leadership in order to break the cycle of poverty through post-secondary education.”Much of the program’s success is because of strong partnerships with community organizations and educational foundations. Bridges students successfully challenge barriers with outcome rates of 100% high school graduation, 95% college enrollment, and 60% college graduation. On average, 90% of students are retained from year one to year three of college. 100% of students have family incomes of less than $30,000 a year and the majority are first-generation college students. Greenville County school counselors help identify students most in need of Bridges support based on eligibility criteria (lives in chronic poverty, 3.0 GPA, and experiencing a specific barrier to success such as living in foster care or surviving abuse), and those selected benefit from programming and support from tenth grade through college graduation. Year-round programming includes three main pillars: Bridges Foundations (a four-week residential program at Furman University), Saturday College (one Saturday a month dedicated to academic and social support) and Crossing the Bridge (on-going support for students in college).
• Berea High School
• United Way of Greenville County • Triune Mercy Center • Goodwill Industries • Department of Social Services
• Safe Harbor • Meyer Center • Pendleton Place • Habitat for Humanity Restore • YouthBase • the Period Project • the Woodlands • Salvation Army • Rebuild Upstate
• The Warehouse Theater • The Peace Center • BMW • Jacobs Engineering • Fluor, Elliott Davis • Furman University • Greenville Technical College • Wofford College • Clemson University • The Cliffs • Prisma Health • Frito Lay
The Advisory Council includes members of the Greenville County School District (including the county-wide director of counseling and a local high school counselor), members of the Furman University community (including the admissions representative for Greenville County, the chief of staff in the office of the university president, and two members of the university Board of Trustees), and other business and community professionals.
Mamie Bruce established Bridges with an endowment that we rely on today for operational costs. We also receive regular financial support from the following foundations and groups, totaling in 2020 $223,000:• The Jolley Foundation – funds the Saturday College program, serving high school students throughout the school year • An anonymous donor – funds Crossing the Bridge, the part of our program that supports students during their college years • Cliffs Residents Outreach – funds college tours trips, school supplies, and laptops for college-bound students • Fluor Corporation – funds salaries for summer STEAM-related teachers • The United Way of Greenville – funds summer operations • Donations made by individual supporters go toward Bridges Foundations summer program In-Kind:
Furman University donates office space and overhead human resources management to Bridges, valued at $35,075. Honda of Easley donates the use of two mini-vans to allow us to provide transportation to students who otherwise would not be able to attend our programming.
First and foremost, we know that earning a college degree is critical for upward economic mobility and employability (NCES, 2014; Carnevale, 2015). Still, students who are low-income, are first in their family to enroll in higher education, or are of color are the least likely to go to college and reap these benefits (NCAN, 2018). The majority of the students in Bridges to a Brighter Future fall into all three of these categories. Yet there are ways to overcome these challenges. The simple fact is: students who participate in college access programs (like Bridges) have higher rates of college enrollment and graduation than their peers who do not participate in such programs (NCAN, 2017).The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) has analyzed college access for first-generation students across the country and has identified a number of best practices that Bridges employs: using a cohort model to connect peers, advising students on course sequencing, providing individual advising sessions to address educational and personal needs, creating opportunities for career exploration, and educating students on financial literacy (2012).
Bridges watches access trends and keeps its offerings current; for example, recent years have yielded research illustrating the importance of on-going mentoring during the college years (Bettinger & Baker, 2011). So, Bridges added the component Crossing the Bridges several years ago to ensure that we continued to walk alongside our students even after they went to college.
Bridges relies on both evidence-based research and our 22-year history to shape programming that we know will positively impact our students. For example, research informs us that a key factor in a student’s self-efficacy related to going to and then succeeding in college is visiting college campuses during high school (Office of the President, 2014). We also know that low-income students are half as likely to visit a college as their higher-income peers (NPR, 2017). With our history, we add onto this concept with what we have learned: to make college visits most effective, students need to research the school in advance, prepare questions, bring materials to take notes, and attend with someone knowledgeable about the admission process and who can help you self-advocate. All told, Bridges students visit an average of 30 colleges before they graduate high school, and they do so with us so they are supported along the way.Bridges also collects more localized data to be considered when planning programming. Prior to the start of any major program components like our summer program or the beginning of a school year, we assess our students’ levels of understanding related to our curriculum as well as ask them what they would like to do and learn. We are also intentional about setting student learning outcomes that are grade-appropriate for each class, meeting with summer faculty multiple times each spring to prepare for a summer curriculum that is cohesive and effective. We then collect data at the conclusion of each major activity (like a summer program, the year’s Saturday College program, or a spring break college tour trip) to ensure that we are meeting and exceeding desired outcomes. Our post-program assessments yield high levels of reported outcomes: • 90%–96% of students report an increase in confidence, leadership, knowledge about college, trust, academic skills, vision for the future, friendships, and goals in life • 100% of students report that Saturday College helps academically and personally and has helped improve a grade, test score, or complete an assignment • 100% of students reported they were more prepared for college after completing the Crossing the Bridge summer component While we are proud of the above data, we also have concrete numbers that support our success: • 100% maintain a 3.0 grade point average in high school • 100% high school graduation • 92% enter college or military directly after high school (compared to 54% nationally) • 87% persistence rate from first to second year of college (compared to 79% nationally) • 69% on-time college graduation rate (compared to 39% nationally)
Bridges remains financially stable in large part to the endowment established at our founding. This gives us the security of knowing our staff will always be paid and our office costs will always be covered, as well as a chunk of our programming. Furman University’s financial experts provide oversight for the endowment, offering us peace of mind. It also gives us the freedom to tell donors that their gifts will go directly to student programming.
Our on-going partnership with Furman University regarding in-kind office space ensures sustainability and consistency in office operations. Other major funders (Jolley Foundation, Cliffs Residents Outreach, and an anonymous donor) are treated as true partners and provide positive feedback on the way their donations are managed. Our partnerships with the Greenville County School District and Furman University, as well as other community groups and colleges, help us remain well-regarded and provide us with invaluable support.For organizational sustainability, we believe that leadership values drive culture. Our organizational leadership includes a director and two assistant directors, all of whom agree on several values: the power of education in helping a person gain autonomy and financial freedom; empowering young people to be their most successful selves; collaborating with community partners to maximize resources and support; involving the entire family when working with students; and using a trauma-informed approach when addressing behavior. Both assistant directors are graduates of the Bridges program and are committed to the sustainability of the organization. Our Advisory Council shares these values and meets with staff regularly to ensure that we have the resources and support necessary to exceed expectations and to provide feedback from their points of expertise (which include k-12 education from the district and school levels, higher education, educational access, non-profit management, community engagement, philanthropy, and business). Our Advisory Council also contains the son and daughter of the Bridges founder, who envisioned the program and created the endowment for our existence. For outcomes sustainability, we are committed to remaining current on the research regarding college access, college admissions, trends in education, effects of poverty, and non-profit management. Staff are assessed annually for efforts in seeking professional development related to job-specific tasks, and staff attend trainings together to enhance our work with students. For example, staff recently joined together to attend trainings including: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) training for educators, understanding suicide prevention, out-of-school programming, and supporting students of color.
High School (9-12)
- Career Education
- English Language Arts
- Health Education
- Social Studies
Carrie Silver, email@example.com