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’Bridging the Gap’

Dropping in on a popular campus program for middle school students

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Thursday morning in a Maxwell Library classroom, Jason Andrade and Angel Poueriet were involved in some high-tech troubleshooting. The gears of the robot they were building were spinning in opposite directions.

As Jason, 13, from Brockton’s Davis Middle School, tweaked the programming on a laptop, his partner Angel, who is 14 and will start at New Bedford High School this fall, picked up their burgeoning creation for a closer look. “I’ve got this,” Angel said, spotting the possible cause of the problem. After a little help from teacher Saozinha de Oliveira, the gears were moving together, and the two young men were ready to put their robot to the next test.

Such are the kinds of things that happen across campus throughout the month of July, when the Bridge program takes up residence, offering underserved middle school students from New Bedford and Brockton a chance to find out what it’s like to live and learn on a college campus.

“I thought this class would be boring, but it shows you what you can do,” Angel said.

Revealing potential and getting these young people used to the idea that some college or university might someday have a place for them is the key to the Bridge program’s success.

“I think it’s an awesome program,” Ms. De Oliveira said. She’s been onboard since its start in 2012, and teaches math and science full time at the Roosevelt Middle School in New Bedford. Years ago, she held an afterschool robotics program, which prepared her well for her work with the Bridge program. 

“For these students, especially those moving from middle to high school, it bridges the gap, and shows them there are different things they can pursue. It shows them the many available opportunities, careers and paths they can apply themselves to.”

The program allows more than 160 students the chance to spend part of their summer on campus experiencing college life. The students live in a university residence hall; take courses with BSU faculty and education majors, as well as their own teachers; and tour educational, cultural and historic sites in Massachusetts.

Each July there are two two-week sessions, each bringing to campus a different group of students. This also includes 10 students from the Red Cloud Indian School, which is located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Bridge program is run out of the Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice.

The Bridge program boasts an impressive academic component, which is literacy based and includes instruction geared to enable the participants to excel back at their home schools. The program includes elements of writing and the creative arts and provides opportunities for students to develop skills in the STEM academic disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Aviation, forensics, jounralism, art and criminal justice are the main areas of academic focus the students can select from.

Classroom instruction is held four mornings each week for three hours. The robotics students spent these sessions building and programming robots, working in teams and learning all sorts of new skills. Their afternoons were spent researching related topics and learning about the role that robots play in modern society.

The students seem to enjoy the chance to play college student for a couple of weeks.

“It’s really fun,” said Emmilee Miranda, 14, soon to enter the ninth grade at the Roosevelt Middle School in New Bedford. “We meet different people and do different activities each day.” (Story and photos by John Winters, G ’11, University News & Media)

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