Nicky Peacher, W&L, assists students in the Bridges at St. Paul’s School program
W&L student Nicky Peacher helped a summer enrichment program at Bridges at St. Paul’s School in Baltimore as part of the 2013 Shepherd Internship Program. Peacher is a politics major and poverty minor in the Class of 2015.
The glossy silverware is perfectly arranged at each place setting, as two prominent businessmen and four ninth-grade students take their seat at the beautiful, round table. They are eating at the Maryland Club, an exclusive club in downtown Baltimore. While the two older men are very comfortable in this dining room, the four students are experiencing a brand new environment. As they begin to speak with another for the first time, the conversation is quiet and slightly awkward. However, as the meal progresses, the students become less shy, and by the time they have all finished their food, they are fully participating and engaging in educated conversations with these older men. As I watched this situation unfold, I was very proud of these kids and their ability to adapt to a new situation and talk appropriately with older professionals. I then realized how important a situation like this is for these students in terms of future jobs and meetings. Without Bridges, none of this would be possible.
These students all attend Baltimore City Public Schools and are also part of the Bridges program. Bridges is a full-year educational program that works with 4th through 12th grade students from East Baltimore. As students in the program, they receive after-school tutoring, mentoring, high school and college guidance, as well as a summer program. Through my Shepherd Internship, I had the opportunity to work at Bridges during the summer program and work with students of all ages in a variety of activities.
Although no day at Bridges was the same, my work consisted mainly of working with the high school students on college preparation, supervising field trips with the 9th grade, teaching swim lessons, taking pictures of assemblies and activities, as well as performing administrative duties. This wide array of responsibilities is symbolic of the diversity Bridges offers students in terms of academics, athletics, and trips.
On Mondays, I worked with the high school students, as they took classes on essay writing, SAT preparation, and college guidance. During this time, students received tutoring on the specific sections of the SATs, learned about the college admissions process, became knowledgeable about different financial aid packages, and finally they were taught how to formulate strong thesis statements and cohesive essays. On Tuesday through Friday, the high school students worked in paid internships set up through Bridges. After teaching and observing this portion of Bridges, I have seen the importance of educating students about college and the steps one must go through to get there.
The rest of my week was spent with the younger students, in grades 4th through 9th. During these days, students would arrive on buses to St. Paul’s School, a private school outside of Baltimore that gives Bridges free access to its facilities. After receiving breakfast, students attend two classes that are taught by Baltimore City Public School teachers. Following a healthy lunch, the students have swim classes, yoga classes, basketball, or all-program athletic activities. Furthermore, once a week, each grade gets to go on a field trip to learn about future careers, perform community service, or engage in the Baltimore community. The day is packed with a variety of activities that constantly keep the kids learning and moving.
The story that began this essay was a field trip for the 9th grade in which they traveled to the Maryland Club to attend an etiquette class and then have lunch with some of the mentors at Bridges. The field trip illustrates the unique opportunities provided for the students. These trips give students a chance to experience something new and challenging that will help them develop soft-skills for functioning in society. The 9th grade hiked a mountain, toured Loyola University, had lunch at the Maryland Club, volunteered at a school for disabled students, and rode the rides at Hershey Park.
Clearly, Bridges is a highly intensive program that effectively works with students from low-income areas to improve their education and opportunities. Although Bridges itself is an excellent organization, expanding the program to provide services on a larger scale would be very difficult. The facilities, time, and number of volunteers and teachers needed to run Bridges makes it a high-cost operation that may create barriers to expansion in other areas. Part of the effectiveness of the program is that its small size creates a tight-knit community and allows for the people working at Bridges to create personal relationships with the children and the families. These connections forge a sense of responsibility and accountability on both sides that would be difficult to replicate if the organization were much larger.
Bridges provides all of these students with educational enrichment, exclusive experiences, and most importantly a safe environment where they feel a strong support system. Although there is no income requirement for a family to send their children to Bridges, many of the students come from low-income homes with single parents and limited opportunities. On my first day at Bridges, I was given a tour of the city and the places where the students lived and went to school. I saw countless boarded up homes and unemployed people, as well as limited grocery stores and places for work. Although these areas create difficult environments for children, Bridges helps to combat these circumstances and break the cyclical poverty that plagues many of these families. The summer program at Bridges works to ensure these children do not experience the “Summer Slide,” so that they are prepared for the following school year. Without Bridges, many of these students would suffer from the months out of school, would never get experience the field trips I have described, and would have a severely limited chance of attending college. In a way, Bridges truly lives up to its name, as it provides a bridge, a support system, for these children to travel from impoverished homes and into a future filled with opportunities.