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Brashier Students Are Crossing a Bridge to a Brighter Future

Brashier Students Are Crossing a Bridge to a Brighter Future

Mary Alice Schultz

Junior Brittany Gilliland arrives to school decked out in her Bridges gear.

While some students spend their summers sleeping in, swimming at their local pool, or earning extra money through a summer job, other students, such as Brashier Junior Brittany Gilliland, are preparing themselves for college. These students are in Furman University’s Bridges to a Brighter Future program. However, Gilliland wasn’t excited about being in this program at first.

“To be honest, I really wasn’t interested in going to Bridges,” says Gilliland, who was nominated the Bridges program as a freshman.  “…But I decided, ‘Ok, what’s the worst thing that can happen?’”

Two years later, Gilliland wears her Bridges hoodie with pride.

What is Bridges?

“Bridges to a Brighter Future is a college access program for Greenville County high school students whose potential outdistances their circumstances, and our goal is to give students the tools and support they need to graduate from high school, enroll in college, and graduate from college,” says Director of Bridges to a Brighter Future Tobi Swartz.

According to Gilliland, Bridges, which spans its students’ high school and college years, provides students with year-round academic and social support.

Bridges Activities and Opportunities

“Over the summer we do… a variety of things,” says Gilliland. “Last year we built rockets in our science class and blew them off.”

Through academic summer classes as well as through tutoring during Saturday College, Bridges students are supported academically. For instance, Gilliland says that the program has classes on core subjects like English, math, and science, as well as certain classes for different grades, such as a SAT/ACT Prep class for rising juniors.

“I’m much more academically successful because of [Bridges] because they push me to do more,” says Gilliland. “The Bridges program just pushes you to be the best you can be.”

Bridges students also take trips to various colleges through both the summer program and a spring break trip.

“[Through Bridges] I’ve been to Davidson College, North Carolina, Winthrop, and Converse, and this year I’m going to USC [and] College of Charleston,” says Gilliland.

Another important aspect of the Bridges program is the fellowship between the students and staff.

“What I like most about my job are the students,” says Swartz. “They are fun, funny, and energetic and inspiring, because they’re all students who’ve overcome significant challenges to succeed in life, so their resolve, their motivation, their dedication, their determination is inspiring to me.”

Gilliland says that over time, the students and staff become very close.

“Everyone there becomes your family after a while and then you know you have friends who will fall back on you, and you can fall back on them,” says Gilliland.

Though the students and faculty are all very different, this does not affect the relationships between them.

“We live in a very diverse community at Bridges because you can walk in and it doesn’t matter where you’re from, who you are, what’s your background… it’s like we drop everything at that point and then it’s like, ‘Here I am. This is me,’ and that’s ok,” says Gilliland.

Nomination, Acceptance, and Freshman Sarah Alvarez

Students must be nominated for the Bridges program.

“Students are nominated in 9th grade… and the [nominators] for Brashier consisted of teachers and guidance counselors,” says Brashier Guidance Counselor Kristi Parnell.

Brashier Freshman Sarah Alvarez recently went through this process of nomination, and was accepted to the Bridges program.

“First I had to submit some forms and an essay,” says Alvarez.

Alvarez was then expected to attend an interview at Furman.

“I thought [the interview] was going to be a little bit different… but they were just kinda talking about me and my grades and stuff,” says Alvarez.

According to Parnell, nominees are picked after these interviews.

“This year we submitted five or six applications; they chose one of our students… it’s a very competitive program.  I think they had maybe 80 selections this year,” says Parnell.

Alvarez learned that she had been accepted into the program after her interview.

“[I was] extremely happy and excited; I was like jumping up and down!” says Alvarez. “I was really happy about [being accepted to Bridges].”

After students are selected, the Bridges program holds a ceremonial welcoming for the new students.

“We had a little spring celebration thing… it was kind-of just an introduction to Bridges,” says Alvarez.

Alvarez was able to meet other students at this celebration, which heightened her enthusiasm for the Bridges summer program.

“After meeting everyone, I’m a little bit more excited about [the summer program]. I was, at first, a little bit nervous… but I’m also really excited about it; I guess that’s like the only thing I am; but it’s a really cool experience to meet those people and go see the program,” says Alvarez.

According to the Bridges website, Alvarez is one of about 25-30 Greenville County students who was accepted to the program this year.  There are requirements for those who stay with the program, however.

“It’s a minimum that you have a 3.0 GPA,” says Gilliland.

Benefits of the Bridges Program

Teachers, parents, Bridges staff members, and Bridges students feel that the Bridges program has many benefits. Parnell sees the program’s opportunities and dedication to the students as benefits.

“They do a lot of mentoring; they provide a lot of different opportunities in the summer for students, they take them to different colleges, universities for tours, and they really follow them closely… from 9th grade all the way to their first year of college,” says Parnell.

As a Bridges parent, Melody Gilliland, mother of Brittany Gilliland, has seen the benefits of these opportunities first-hand.

“Brittany’s more self-confident.  She’s become a leader in quite a few aspects.  Grades have improved.  Overall, she’s just a better well-rounded young lady,” says Melody Gilliland.

Melody Gilliland also says Bridges has also benefitted their whole family.

“[Bridges] was almost like a blessing,” says Melody Gilliland. “It was like, ‘Wow, my kid’s a part of this.’”

Swartz sees the program as life-changing.

“[Bridges] gives [students] purpose and direction and exposure to opportunities they would not otherwise have,” says Swartz. “It also gives them a sense of belonging as being a part of the Bridges program and gives them a foundation on which to fall back on when they face challenges.”

All in all, Brittany Gilliland sees the Bridges to a Brighter Future program as advantageous, and only has one complaint about the program.

“You don’t get your cellphone during the summer!” says Gilliland. “…But it’s also a good thing because it’s not distracting you… that would take away from the experience.”

Click here to check out the Bridges website and learn more about the program.

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