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Bridge programs prep students for college

Summer Bridge 2014
From left to right: students Anthony Azzarello, Kristin Keenan, and Chance Spratlin collaborate to solve math problems during one of the courses in UNG's Summer Bridge program.

Students in two Summer Bridge programs at the University of North Georgia (UNG) spent five weeks enhancing their academic skills to prepare for the rigors of college.

UNG's Office of Multicultural Student Affairs held its first North Star Summer Bridge program, geared toward African-American males accepted to UNG. The project is sponsored by the University System of Georgia's (USG) African-American Male Initiative (AAMI), which serves to increase retention, progression and graduation rates of African American male students at USG institutions. UNG is one of 17 universities awarded funding by the USG to offer the program.

North Star Summer Bridge grads

Jaelen Tyner, Omar Alvarez, Stephon Henry, Aaron Reed, Roger Long,

and Donovan King graduated from UNG's inaugural North Star Summer

Bridge program.

"This is about getting these students prepared for and acclimated to our school," said Robert Robinson, director of Multicultural Student Affairs. "Once an eligible student is accepted into UNG, the program's purpose is to help the student with remedial English or math to help get his scores and confidence up. The program also has mentoring influences, including a mentor retreat after graduation from the program, to help our students have the strongest possible chance of success."

AAMI began in 2003 from a USG Special Funding effort allocated by the Georgia General Assembly in the fiscal year's budget. At that time, the ratio of African-American females to males in the university system was 2 to 1. By 2011, USG enrollment of African-American males increased by 68 percent, with graduation and retention rates also improving significantly.

"The program leaders introduced us to many UNG staff including counselors and librarians, and gave us a tour around campus before we began classes, which really helped us get to know the campus and feel welcome," said Stephon Henry, who graduated from the program this summer. "The courses helped refresh my skills, especially math, and I enjoyed our reading assignments in the literature course. The teachers and program staff were very enthusiastic and made us feel welcome, which helped us succeed."

Henry plans to major in exercise science, and is considering becoming a physical therapist.

A similar program, the Summer Bridge program administered by UNG's University College, is designed to help all first-time college students who were initially denied admission improve their skills and opportunities for admission into UNG.  The program, which has an emphasis on students of Latino backgrounds, is in its second year.

"The Summer Bridge program's main focus is helping the students improve their COMPASS placement scores so the students can either get accepted to UNG or improve their Learning Support standing, even to the point of testing out of their Learning Support requirement," said Todd Campbell, director of Summer Bridge.

COMPASS tests determine areas of strength and areas that need improvement in a student's skillset, helping to determine ideal placement for remedial courses or other preparation. Learning Support, a USG program, offers courses for students to accomplish this improvement while on USG campuses, including UNG.

"The program has been great; it's helped me realize that as a student I have to show up for class, I have to seek help when needed, and I have to ask questions when I don't understand what's going on," said Thelma Avalos, who completed the program this summer. "The program has also let me feel like I am a student at UNG, and now I won't be embarrassed to ask questions because I want to do my best in my classes. I plan on going into education and becoming an elementary special education teacher."

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