Every child deserves the same chances for success: to have access to the finest resources, the best teachers and the most innovate initiatives that will prepare them for a bright future in college and beyond.
However, there are too many students who lack this access to opportunity. Too many of our city’s — and our country’s — students grow up in under-resourced homes and attend under-resourced schools in under-resourced neighborhoods. This distressing gap in opportunities for success is why the Library is so committed to support education initiatives in our neighborhood branches across the city.
Last fall, we announced the groundbreaking BridgeUp program supported by the incredibly generous Helen Gurley Brown Foundation. And last month, the first cohort of BridgeUp scholars entered the program: ten 8th grade boys and girls from the Renaissance Leadership Academy who will be meeting at our Countee Cullen Branch after school, 5 days a week, 43 weeks a year, for the next 5 years. These students were selected for their potential and ambition — they might not be at the top of their class right now, but BridgeUp will help translate their innate passion and drive into success in the classroom and on to college. Over the next few weeks, we are launching similar cohorts in four additional branches. As the program expands, we will serve 250 students a year.
BridgeUp partners these students with dedicated adults who serve as Helen Gurley Brown Education Fellows and small-group tutors, providing an essential stability to their lives. In addition to academic skill building and homework help, these students will receive intensive college preparation as they progress through high school.
They will also receive the resources to jointly pursue “passion projects” every year based on their interests: maybe a short documentary about the history of double dutch in Harlem or a photojournalism exhibit about their favorite NBA players. And they can dream big — BridgeUp provides them with funds to pursue individual activities as well: stipends towards music lessons or computer science classes are just some of the ways we hope these scholars will take advantage of the program.
The idea is to give students all of the tools and resources they need to succeed, replicating what most in better-resourced neighborhoods take for granted. We hope that BridgeUp will serve as a national model for guiding youth through these critical transitional years — we should be helping all of our children build bridges towards a happy and successful life.
As a former college president myself, I know that institutions of higher education will be fortunate to attract these kinds of students five or more years down the road. In time, we can ensure mobility through talent perseveres as an American ideal.
One of our students reflected on her first week in the program with high-praise (for an 8th grader): “I like the program because we get a lot of help with our academics, but in a fun way, not boring. And we have good snacks!” These ten BridgeUp scholars may be just 8th graders right now, but we firmly believe that they are building their own bridges toward a life with limitless opportunities for success at their fingertips.