What do Nichole LaMarche, Kendaija Witt, and Kerry Black have in common?
Each grew up in a family of limited means. Each confronted a significant challenge. And each persisted to emerge as a star student.
One by one, Nichole, Kendaija, and Kerry have reached deep inside themselves to create a happier, self-affirming vision of their future, thanks to a donor-funded program at Furman University.
Called Bridges to a Brighter Future, the three-year initiative offers rising 10th-through 12th-graders mired in hardscrabble conditions an opportunity to emerge from their shell, make new friends, build confidence, and set their sights on college.
Participation is by invitation only, says Carrie Silver, the program’s director, whose infectious smile lights up the hallways where she mingles with, listens to, and encourages her students.
A three-year program offered by Furman University to give high schools students the tools they need to overcome barriers, graduate high school and enroll in college. Nearly 500 students have participated in the program since it launched in 1997.
Program participant stats:
• 25 applicants chosen each year
• Selected students must
• be eligible for subsidized lunch
• demonstrate a social service need
• have a 3.0 average
• have a clean disciplinary record
• Fifty-nine percent come from divorced or single parent homes
• 87 percent subsist on household income less than $25,000
• Nearly 70 percent of all enrollees are African-American and/or Hispanic
Participants are nominated annually, mostly by guidance counselors and teachers at Greenville County’s public and charter high schools. Only 25 of 125 applicants are chosen each year.
Every student selected must be eligible for subsidized lunch, demonstrate a social-service need, possess a 3.0 average, and have a clean disciplinary record.
“So when our partners in ninth grade nominate ninth-graders, we find these young people who have a desire to create a life that maybe wouldn’t be possible for them without a little bit of extra support,” Silver says.
Kadian Patterson is one of the 75 achievers currently enrolled.
“I’m not just another girl in a messed-up life I have. Everybody has a story, my story means something, and people care about me and I care about other people here,” the rising Hillcrest senior says.
Kadian has been through the first two stages of Bridges’ curriculum: a four-week academic enrichment and residential program held each summer; a year-round Saturday program focused on tutoring and personal development, held monthly; and a college orientation and retention program called Crossing the Bridge that includes check-ins with Bridges graduates during their time at a college or technical school.
On Saturdays, Silver says, instructors from the community hold two tutoring blocks. Optional activities include STEM programs, community service, and outdoor events like apple-picking.
There’s also a college planning module.
“So it’s myself and we have two assistant directors and we each take a grade and teach what you need to be thinking about right now on your path to college,” she says.
The day includes a nutritious lunch. “There’s a lot of food insecurity in Greenville,” Silver acknowledges.
The program’s hand-picked participants have seen much, perhaps too much, in their young lives. Fifty-nine percent come from divorced or single-parent homes; 87 percent subsist on household incomes less than $25,000.
Nearly 70 percent of all enrollees are African Americans and Hispanics.
Nichole LaMarche’s mother died a year ago and her father is unable to work, so she scrapes together a living.
“I also struggled with just having to provide for my little sister and having to keep a job, having to provide my own transportation, saving up money for my own car, and just doing the things teenagers shouldn’t have to do,” the Hillcrest student says.
She aspires to be a police officer.
Kerry Black, a Southside High student, says he’s dealt with an abusive father, suffered a tumor in his jaw, and like Nichole had to support his family.
He aspires to be an attorney.
Kendaija Witt, a Mauldin High student, experienced homelessness and suffers from depression.
“This is my second family … and they’ve allowed me to be myself at times when I thought that I had to put a mask on, but here, literally, you can just be yourself with no judgment, and that’s what I love about Bridges,” she says.
Kendaija looks forward to becoming a nurse, perhaps a surgeon.
Bridges’ graduating seniors hear about budgeting, financial aid, and perseverance and are paired with college buddies. Once in college, Bridges keeps in touch and can assist with tutoring, housing, and other concerns.
“So they really have somebody who understands them and has known them since they were 15 to help them on that journey,” Silver says.
Bridges is about much more than getting into college, Nichole believes.
“It opens your heart and your mind and really, you get to discover yourself and your future,” she says.
As a result of participation in the four-week summer program, 91-96% of students experienced an improvement in:
96% – Confidence, Knowledge about College, and Friendships
95% – Academic Confidence, Vision for Future, Goals in Life
93% – Trust
91% – Academic Skills and LeadershipSATURDAY COLLEGE
As a result of participation in Saturday College, 100% of students reported:
100% – Saturday College has helped academically and personally.
100% – Tutoring has helped improve a grade, test score, or complete an assignment.CROSSING THE BRIDGE
As a result of Crossing the Bridge, 100% of students reported:
100% – I feel more prepared for college after the Crossing the Bridge summer component.