Helping incoming freshmen bridge gap

AACC summer program focuses on preparing minority students for the college experience

July 09, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Breanna Spencer, 18, wasn't thrilled about the idea of spending most of July in a classroom, but she signed up for the Summer Bridge Program at Anne Arundel Community College anyway.

"At first, I didn't really want to do it because I knew my summer would be gone," said Spencer, who graduated in May from North County High School. "But at the end of the day, it benefits you."

The Summer Bridge Program, now in its sixth year, is a free, four-week program for students, particularly African-American students, who will be attending the community college in the fall.

Students attend classes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., focusing on reading, English and math and honing their study skills.

The program was started by the college's Black Student Success Team, with the goal of improving the academic performance of minority students at the college, said Lester Brooks, co-coordinator of the program along with Penny Foster.

Spencer said the classes are giving her a taste of the college experience, especially the importance of staying on top of the work and not letting things slide, she said.

Each year, 30 students are accepted into the program, Brooks said. They are recruited from Anne Arundel high schools and must attend AACC in the fall. Carlesa Finney, project director of the Student Achievement and Success Program, visits high schools and tells students and counselors about it, he said.

"Usually they need help, and they fit right in to what we are trying to do," Brooks said of the students who take part in the program. "It fits into the strategic plan of the college to raise the success rate of minority students."

Spencer learned about the Bridge Program because her cousin, Vivian Spencer, teaches English in it, she said. Other teachers are Liz Peavy and Jeanine Williams.

Students break into two groups for an hour each of English and math. Then they get together for reading and lunch. In the afternoon, they take a college credit course in study skills.

Field trips, including one every year to Morgan State University, are typically part of the Friday routine.

Brooks said students take placement tests at the start of the program and at the end, to determine the right class levels for them. "In most cases, they move up," he said.

He also said the program has succeeded in its goal of improving the performance of minorities. On Thursday, students in Melissa Spurlock's math class were learning about a Web site called webmath.com.

Spurlock showed the students how the site would take them through a math problem.

"The Web site will give you a lot of information," she told the class.

Students will attend a celebration July 21 with family members and friends to mark their completion of the four-week program.

College officials will give inspirational talks and welcome the incoming freshmen, Brooks said.

But the program doesn't end there. Follow-ups such as mentoring help and lunch meetings keep the lessons fresh, Brooks said.

Spurlock said students who go through the Bridge Program do better in the math classes she teaches during the school year.

"They know what I expect of them," she said.

In particular, she doesn't give students extensions on their assignment deadlines, she doesn't allow them to write in pen, and some classes are not allowed to use calculators, she said.

Gabriel Snowden, 19, is attending the program this summer because his two sisters had good experiences with it.

"It just really helped me with my social skills because I'm a quiet person," said Snowden, who graduated this spring from the House of Prayer Christian Education Center.

"It's a little difficult to adjust, but I'm starting to get the hang of it," he said. "It's turning out to be really good."

Erica Purnell, 20, was in the program in 2004 after graduating from Old Mill High School and is now helping in the classrooms during the summer program.

What she sees from her perspective of two years in college is that the students don't seem to take the experience as seriously as they should. She was the same way, she said, realizing only later how valuable the experience had been.

"I really think it was beneficial," she said. "I still use some of the stuff I learned in the program."

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