WHAT DOES BRIDGES DO?
College access is a community issue, Bridges knows. Inequality hurts us all. And so they take steps to level the playing field by demystifying the process, identifying resources, sharing information, and helping students find their way forward in education and life.
"The original mission is alive and well," says Sue Goldberg, former Co-Director of Bridges Project. "This is what we do: we help one person at a time through this process. And there is no recipe because each person is different. Each path is unique."
No recipe, true—but Bridges has a powerful system for making sure each client gets the kind of help they need. Behind the scenes, they've worked hard to develop a comprehensive and effective program to achieve results. They pay close attention to cutting-edge research and national trends. Coupling the wisdom born of long local experience with their deep knowledge of the values and traditions of our people here, Bridges has refined a three-pronged strategy for their work.
Intensive, individualized counseling. The cornerstone of the process is an intensive focus on the unique needs of each student. Bridges has created a Comprehensive Counseling Model, continually responsive to changing trends in college admissions, to guide their individualized sessions. These sessions help students identify goals, chart steps, and stay on track as they assemble materials to meet multiple deadlines.
"When you're working with Bridges, they get to know you personally, so they're able to help you tell your story. It's a really important part of the process."
Students tell us that Bridges has played an essential role in helping them navigate the complex and confusing application process. For first generation students, the Bridges experience is even more crucial. Families can feel overwhelmed by the college application process, and parents, like their children, need support in learning how to navigate the system.
Sharing information. In addition to individualized counseling, Bridges offers a slate of outreach offerings. Sharing information this way, Bridges is able to expand their reach beyond the 100+ students funding permits them to directly counsel each year. Just as valuably, they stretch the window of focus on college from the final two years of high school to a much longer period.
Bridges outreach includes the following:
- writing a monthly “Learning Curve” column in The Taos News;
- presenting a college application overview to juniors at all area high schools, and offering similar presentations for community agencies;
- posting regularly on our website and Facebook, with information about our organization and educational opportunities and scholarships for all types of students; and
- supporting a newly restructured website which serves as a clearinghouse of resources for students, parents, educators and community agencies, encompassing all components of the higher education application and financial aid process.
Thanks to their long service, distinguished track record, and cultivated neutrality, Bridges has earned the trust and respect of the community. To remain worthy of that, Bridges
- stays abreast of change, integrating current research alongside a deep respect for local values and traditions;
- invests in meaningful evaluation to measure their impact, identify areas to improve, and strategize for the future;
- aligns their data systems with national measures for excellence and transparency;
- collaborates with community partners, nurturing authentic relationships that address parallel issues of college readiness, persistence and completion; and
- remains true to their original intention, expanding college access to all people in the Taos area so that college degrees do not remain a privilege for a select few.
Adult and GED students access Bridges services as well as those advancing directly from high school to post-secondary educational opportunities. These nontraditional students make up 25% of the 2700 clients Bridges has served since 1997.
More than half of all Bridges clients are first generation to college, and 70% of clients are of Hispanic or Native American heritage.
All students may access Bridges services free of charge.
YEAH, BUT... NOT EVERYBODY NEEDS TO GO TO COLLEGE... RIGHT?
We've heard it again and again. And it's true. Not everyone does. Not everybody wants to. Not every student who completes high school is ready for the experience of college. Not every person thrives in the atmosphere of conventional education. Life is full of opportunities for learning, and college is just one route to a successful, fulfilling, meaningful future.
But taken on a larger scale, the data speak clearly. The advantages that accrue to those with a college education are profound. Workplace skills and job opportunities are obvious benefits, but differences in income differential, health advantages, community engagement via voting and volunteering, and self-assessed happiness are some of additional metrics used to examine the pluses of post-secondary education.
Bridges honors all paths. Their program is founded on the belief that each person is right to advocate for her own best interests, his own freedom to choose.
The fear that local students will leave Taos for college and stay away for lack of good jobs should not be dismissed lightly. But census data shows the largest jump in employment, in the most recent decade of data, in residents of Hispanic background who hold bachelor's degrees or higher. The jobs seem to be there. With qualified workers to fill them, more are likely to arise. Our own students may create them, generating opportunity for those who follow.
If I were to look at who I was in high school, would I think that this is where I'd be, now?"
Post-secondary education can confer more than economic gain, as well. It can develop an appreciation for literature, music, art. It can teach us to appreciate our local history, our local culture, the plants and animals and processes that power our local ecosystem. It can offer guidance and practice in critical and creative thinking, making students more astute citizens, consumers, and inventors. It can engage them in entrepreneurial adventures and expose them to challenges that develop valuable habits and expand their sense of what's possible. It can be fun. It can be painful. It can be the best thing or it can be a big snooze. But it won't be any of these things if students are systematically excluded from the experience.