The racial achievement gap in the US is a problem with deep roots in many of today’s current issues. Largely owing to socioeconomic disparities between Black, Latinx, and white families, statistics show that Black and Latinx students are more likely to drop out of high school, receive lower grades, score lower on standardized tests, and are less likely to apply to and complete college, compared to white students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that between Black and white eighth grade students there was a 31-point difference in mathematics and a 26-point difference in reading, and that between Latinx and white eighth grade students there was a 26-point difference in mathematics and a 24-point difference in reading. This demonstrates the divide.
Addressing such a complex and relevant problem may seem difficult, but it is one of the issues that Jessie Luxford and other Berkeley High School (BHS) teachers aimed to tackle with the BHS Bridge program. Luxford, founder and coordinator of the program, described it as “a four year academic skill-building and college preparation program.” Serving 155 primarily Black and Latinx students at BHS, their principal goal is for students to be eligible and competitive to attend a four year college when they leave high school.
Students begin in the program during the summer after their eighth grade year, in order to help them with the transition into high school, and continue throughout all four years of high school. Functioning as a seventh period class, participating students come every day after school to receive support in many different areas with their assigned cohort and Bridge teacher. Ideally, students stay within the same grade cohort and with the same teacher for the entirety of the program, allowing them to build stronger and more effective relationships.
Janai Williams, a BHS senior in Academic Choice (AC), said, “The Bridge program helps in so many ways. You have a teacher that is there for you all four years of high school, so that teacher knows you best. They will go to bat for you, talk to your teachers, and support you however. You really get to know them.”
When originally created, the Bridge program was a three-and-a-half-week summer class intended to help eighth grade students and before ninth grade. After Luxford began teaching in it, and later asked to follow her students through high school, Bridge was built into a four year program, involving the help of many teachers. As something that lasts for all of high school, Bridge now has a further ability to impact students and their high school experience. “We want students to feel like they have an advocate in their corner. We’re there to support them, to give them a safe place to be, and because we know them all four years, we really get to be there for them,” said Luxford.
On average, 78 percent of Bridge students have been accepted into a four year university, and 95 percent of Bridge students enrolled in post-secondary education after high school. The program provides support not only through its cohorts, but also through tutors and mentors, as well as the tight-knit community that it creates. Dwayne Clay, a BHS senior in Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA), said, “I have a large amount of people that support me. There’s a lot of trust that’s been built and I feel like I can definitely rely on everybody there … It’s just like a big family support system.”
Ms. Johnson-Lucas, mother of Clay and his sister Driana, who is also a part of Bridge, stated, “Bridge has impacted our lives in such a positive way … [It] is super beneficial to students because they individualize support based on their needs and goals. They teach life skills, and provide tremendous support for students to achieve those goals … I am so proud that my students are a part of the program.”
For current seniors, a large part of the program is helping with their college application process, where students are walked through every step in order to ensure that everything is done correctly and that they are properly supported. “You don’t need to ask for help because they’re already checking in and supporting you … If you don’t really have a voice for yourself or you feel like it’s not being heard, they’re there for you,” said Clay.
When both students were asked what they’d like to highlight about the program, a single thing came to mind: Luxford. Williams said, “I’ve never met another person who has taken the steps to make sure that I’m supported academically … She works so hard for all of her students, and it’s not always mentioned.”
Luxford also wanted to acknowledge the work done by every Bridge teacher at BHS, and the support necessary to operate such an involved program. “[Bridge] is a collaborative effort between the teachers, students, families, BHS staff, district, and larger community, … which is why I believe it has been so successful year after year,” said Luxford.
By helping not only with current classes and grades, but also with the development of important life skills as well as the creation of a community that can function as a safety net, Bridge has had a lasting impact on many students. “If I wasn’t in Bridge, I don’t know where I’d be right now.” Clay stated.