The transition into college can be difficult for some students – assuming they go to college at all, which for kids from less wealthy neighborhoods is by no means guaranteed.
Birmingham City Schools and several partners are working this week to make it just a little easier for kids who want to make the leap into higher education, giving them what amounts to a head start before they even graduate high school.
“Jumpstart to Graduation,” a feature of the Summer Bridge program, benefits kids from Birmingham schools through the efforts of a variety of other education-focused partnering organizations: the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Lawson State Community College, the Birmingham Museum of Art, EDWorks, the Woodlawn Innovation Network, KnowledgeWorks, YouthServe and Red Mountain Park.
Students enrolled in Jumpstart to Graduation are getting help making the transition from middle to high school and even from high school to college. “Research suggests that many incoming freshmen are not prepared for the rigors of high school or college,” said WIN Education Director Stephen Cockrell. “The Summer Bridge program is a great opportunity to motivate students with a real look at life on a college campus.”
More than 90 students, all heading into their ninth or 10th grade years, were slated to take classes at Lawson State or UAB, to learn about volunteerism with YouthServe, take a ride on a zipline and a hike through Red Mountain Park on Friday, get a tour of the BMA, and even get to try on armor from Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor, the museum’s latest exhibition, on Tuesday. The students in the program this time all come under the WIN umbrella – they all come from schools that feed students into Woodlawn High.
At UAB the students heard a performance by the UAB Gospel Choir, participated in a campus scavenger hunt Monday, and worked on screen printing at AEIVA, the new visual arts gallery, on Thursday. At Lawson State, activities involved making and launching a rocket on Wednesday.
Tuesday afternoon found a group of students at Woodlawn High looking over a resume, and being urged to sign up for some of YouthServe’s volunteer opportunities. YouthServe Executive Director Jennifer Hatchett said the program is a great opportunity for kids who take advantage of it.
The Summer Bridge program “gives kids the opportunity to earn college credits while they are in high school – tuition free — so that by the time they graduate from high school, they could, conceivably have an associate’s degree. So they’re starting college at an advantage, should they take advantage of it. … They would have to enroll in classes and take them and actually participate.”
Her organization’s role is to introduce the idea of volunteerism as an element of a well-rounded education.
“YouthServe is a youth leadership and service organization,” Hatchett said. “We partner with dozens and dozens of nonprofits every year to not only make a difference in the community, but to really bring the experience to kids from all walks of life. … We have them from every ZIP code, from every school. Typically, over a year, we’ll have kids from 60 different schools participating with us.”
The reason YouthServe is involved with the Jumpstart to Graduation program this week is that service is a plus when trying to gain admission to many universities. “For colleges, in applications and for scholarships as well, community service is a huge part of it,” she said, adding that many school systems, leadership organizations and honor societies also expect students to have some service to their respective communities under their belt.
But students have a more difficult time volunteering for some organizations because of their age. “There are restrictions on a lot of different programs,” Hatchett said. “It’s not the same as being an adult volunteer. You can’t just go volunteer somewhere. … In our case, for example, every single volunteer service opportunity we offer, we have to have waivers signed by the kids, by their parents. And we have…liability insurance that specifically addresses youth events.” The organizations YouthServe works with know they are dealing with volunteers as young as 13, so the organization makes it less complicated for young students to begin earning points as community volunteers.
The resume the Woodlawn students were looking at was one belonging to a young woman whose primary work experience was as a volunteer. “It’s a real student who was with us last year,” Hatchett said. “And she graduated and got a full scholarship to Howard University. And we had another one who got the Bill and Melinda Gates Millennial [Grant]. Pretty amazing.
“So, I guess the whole point of bringing us into the college bridge was putting that option in front of them and letting them know that, look, what this group is attempting to do is broaden your perspective. It’s saying, if you want to go to college and you want to make that successful transition into adulthood, there’s all sorts of things that need to happen and there’s lots of people out there who are trying to make it happen for you.”