Bridge Program helps narrow Berkeley’s achievement gap

Graduating seniors from Berkeley High School's Bridge Program (L to R): Raejean Hightower, Ryen Deloatch, Carl (Neal) Edwards Joshua Butler, Zierre Robinson, Armando Maravilla, Labria Young, and Michelle Resendiz. The program held a ceremony May 27 to present the seniors with sashes. They will graduate June 13. Photo: courtesy of the Bridge Program

Graduating seniors from Berkeley High School’s Bridge Program (L to R): Raejean Hightower, Ryen Deloatch, Carl (Neal) Edwards Joshua Butler, Zierre Robinson, Armando Maravilla, Labria Young, and Michelle Resendiz. The program held a ceremony May 27 to present the seniors with sashes. They will graduate June 13. Photo: courtesy of the Bridge Program

Four years ago Armando Maravilla came out of Longfellow Middle school a C-student.  Due to graduate from Berkeley High School next week, Maravilla is now heading to San Francisco State University, planning to study psychology.

How he got from there to here has a lot to do with the Bridge Program at Berkeley High, he believes.

The Bridge Program takes C-students from middle school – about 30 every year — and offers them summer programs, afterschool homework support, and lots of advice, nagging and hand-holding by dedicated teachers. The goal is to keep those C students from slipping, and hopefully make them B and A students.

“It felt helpful – all the advice, the summer programs, the information — how you’re supposed to talk to teachers,” said Maravilla.

In all, the Bridge Program served 114 Berkeley High students this year, most of them Latino and African-American, and most from low-income families. It is one of several programs at Berkeley High meant to address the achievement gap between these students of color and their white classmates.  This achievement gap exists not only at Berkeley High — where black and Latino students are scoring lower on tests such as the state exit exam and graduating at lower rates — but across the country. Closing the gap has been on the national agenda since at least the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. Berkeley has enacted the 2020 Vision Plan to narrow the gap.

Efforts like the Bridge Program have made a difference. Two indications: African American and Latino students’ scores on the state high school exit exam and the old Star test have mostly gone up for the past two years.

“The trend lines are all going in the right direction,” said Principal Pasquale Scuderi. “But in certain places they’re not moving as fast as we need them to move (to close achievement gaps).”

That’s why the school – and community groups —run a variety of support programs.

The Bridge Program, founded four years ago, was originally meant to last a few weeks during the summer before freshman year — as a bridge between middle school and high school. But the Bridge’s first teacher, Jessie Luxford, asked if she could follow the kids through their freshman year.  She asked again the next year, and the next.

“The reason I get up in the morning is that I believe in this,” said Luxford, who can talk a mile a minute and overflows with enthusiasm.  “If you give them enough attention and have high enough expectations, and include the family, they can reach those goals.”

Now Luxford’s first class is graduating.  Of 29 seniors, 19 were accepted to four-year colleges – mostly California state universities — and 24 of them were on track to be eligible for four-year colleges as of the first semester this year.  That’s an 83 percent eligibility rate, compared to a 40- to 50-percent rate for the rest of the school’s African-American and Latino students.  The students in the Bridge program have a better school attendance rate, as well.

In addition, most of the Bridge students are earning better than Cs now, said Luxford, and 81 percent took Advanced Placement classes during their junior year.

This year, Luxford worked with the sophomore and senior Bridge classes, while Kate Trimlett and Kimberley D’Adamo Green handled the freshmen and juniors.

Jessie Luxford, coordinator of the Bridge Program, talks to students Antonio Navidad-Franco and San Juana Mejia. The Bridge program services about 30 students in each grade at Berkeley High School in an effort to prepare them for college. Credit: Andrea Tamayo

Jessie Luxford, coordinator of the Bridge Program, talks to students Antonio Navidad-Franco and San Juana Mejia. The Bridge program services about 30 students in each grade at Berkeley High School in an effort to prepare them for college.
Photo: Andrea Tamayo

Every day the Bridge teachers check the kids’ grades and attendance online (on PowerSchool), talk to teachers and counselors and parents, and follow up with the students when they arrive for the afternoon homework program.   For an hour or more after school, the students can work on their homework, or work with a tutor in the room, or get a pass to visit a teacher on campus.

Luxford tries hard to strike a balance between fun and work.  “If it were silent here, no eating, this program would not work.” So she and the other teachers buy snacks with their own money, and there’s a steady stream of chatter in the room, with Luxford regularly calling out things to students like, “not appropriate” and “are we working?”

“She texts us and calls us. She calls our parents.  You have to do it [your homework] and she’ll back off,” said sophomore Jacari Trent, one of eight students who spoke to Berkeleyside.  Seven heads nod in agreement. They don’t love the texts.  But, “the best part,” adds Trent, “is Ms. Luxford. I sort of get my energy from her.” Heads nod again.

“Ms. Luxford is like our mom at school,” said senior Ariana Tamayo.

Luxford earned a master’s degree at Mills College on supporting struggling students. She, herself, remembers the struggle as a child when she moved from a public school to a private one. “I was so unprepared,” said Luxford. “I was terrified of getting help.  I never want kids to feel that way. My heart goes out to students who may find school hard.”

And so she prods almost 60 kids every day, in hopes of seeing them not only go to college, but finish.

The Bridge program costs roughly $125,000 of an overall high school budget of around $20 million, Scuderi said. This year and next, about one-third of the Bridge program is being funded by the city.

The Bridge is not the only program at Berkeley High giving students an extra push to succeed.  Almost another 500 students at the school of 3,200 are getting support from another half-dozen programs: AVID runs a study skills class for promising students who need extra help; RISE, a city-run program provides tutors after school on campus to almost 100 students; and the YMCA’s Y-scholars supports almost 200 more kids, in a variety of Berkeley schools, some at the high school.

Some of the students in the Berkeley HIgh Bridge Program (from left): Armando Maravilla, Jared Scott, Jacari Trent-Pontoon (in green shirt), Karina Juarez, Aia Abushareefh, Yakira Evans, Michelle Resendiz and Ariana Tamayo. Photo: Jessie Luxford

Some of the students in the Berkeley HIgh Bridge Program (from left): Armando Maravilla, Jared Scott, Jacari Trent-Pontoon (in green shirt), Karina Juarez, Aia Abushareefh, Yakira Evans, Michelle Resendiz and Ariana Tamayo. Photo: Jessie Luxford

Under another new program, the school has identified the students with the most discipline incidents and is stepping in with extra attention. “It’s nothing super cutting edge,” said Scuderi. “Just more people paying attention to more kids at different intervals.  That’s the spirit of all these programs.”

Perhaps, in part, as a result of these programs, the graduation rate for African American students jumped 6 percent last year from the year before, and increased 10 percent from four years earlier.  (Although the Bridge program can’t get credit for that, as this year is its first graduating class.)  Scuderi said it’s hard to point to one reason for the increased graduation rate, but added “I think we’ve become much more systematic at paying attention to kids who need it, much earlier.”

He hopes that will only increase next year under new guidelines whereby kids coming out of middle school are identified for early interventions.  New funding from the state for low-income students and English Learners (LCAP funding) will pay for a new intervention coordinator and counselor in the fall to work with students doing poorly.  Scuderi estimates that about 10 percent or more of the freshman class this year, who are not already receiving extra support, could use it.

The Bridge program has also expanded within the district.  The three Berkeley middle schools began programs this year for sixth graders, serving 60 African American students (20 at each school). The students attended a one-week summer program, went to a support class twice a week, and were monitored by a coordinator through the year.  Data has yet to be analyzed, but teacher reviews indicated that the students generally did well in school, according to a report from Neil Smith, head of educational services.

Besides the homework support, the tutoring, and the handholding through college applications, there’s one more reason the Bridge Program works, according to Armando Maravilla. “It puts you in the right crowd.”

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  • Guest

    The only way to fix the achievement gap is to fix the home culture. Until that culture changes no amount of work at, before, or after school can significantly change the end result.

  • Doc

    I can’t agree. If we limited enrollment to kids actually living in Berkeley, most of the achievement gap would become manageable. Remember, the greatest predictor of a student rising to average is how few other poor performing students are in the room. The fewer, the better the odds of accomplishment.

  • Woolsey

    We also have a school or youth-culture problem. As long as doing well in school is denigrated as “acting white” then we will have an achievement gap. Very hard for kids to go against their peers.

  • Doc

    How come on average the chat on Berkeleyside understands BUSD better than the school board ?

  • guest

    He’s right to some extent though. Students do better in classrooms where all students are of similar ability so that they can challenge each other. The current system of mixing various ability levels into one classroom hurts kids at both the top and the bottom of the curve.

  • lm

    It doesn’t, but it is often full of comments of people that think they know better. This is a complex problem that will take the good faith efforts of many people.

  • Doc

    Actually, not an opinion. See New Jersey state school assessment study. It has been replicated several times. Regarded as the single most authoritative study of success. Number of low performing kids matters more than budget, curriculum, teacher or any other factor. Once number of non-performers hits three in the room progress is not made.

  • rhuberry

    Pretty sad commentary that it takes a special high school program, that among other things has to teach students how to talk to teachers. Nowhere along the line in this school district that many think is so excellent were these kids taught appropriate respect for teachers and other adults in the school??? There were no consequences for inappropriateness before high school? I guess we don’t want to hurt their feelings or else we pass it off as respecting the culture they came from. In either case it doesn’t benefit the student in the long run to let this kind of stuff slide.

  • Berkeleyardigan

    Wow! You are making the assumption that when this student made that statement that he was referencing being disrespectful. I think your opinion is more telling of your bias toward individuals of a certain background. His statement could be about how to reach out to teachers for help, discuss their grade and ways of improving it etc. Skills that many students have learned through observing their parents, which they may not have experienced. Yes I’m calling you out as prejudice.

  • rhuberry

    Sorry, but in my 18 years of teaching, the majority of my students were nonwhite, predominantly African American, and as the years went by I was the teacher at my grade level most requested by “parents of color” because of my track record of success and respect for their children. If anything, my comment about how to speak to teachers came from many years of coaching children how to speak to me, their classmates and other adults in an appropriate manner. I was not a kindergarten teacher so these children had a number of years in school before they came to me. Somewhere along the line they were not taught proper school manners and procedures. It just seemed to me that high school was a little late for any of that — knowing how to ask for help, discussing their grade, or being respectful. I write about school issues based on many years in the trenches. I’m sorry if you interpreted it as prejudice. It’s just that when I had students who were lacking in knowing how to interact with teachers, I mostly encountered kids being rude. But it didn’t take too long to help them learn. And this was long before high school.

    I know 2 of the kids in the picture. I’m surprised they qualified for this program because they were solid students with good home support. I wonder when and why they began to fall behind.

  • Woolsey

    Who knows what the student meant, but I bet it was about “talking back” which is currently a big issue in Berkeley schools. Is it insolence or just a different cultural approach to conversation. In fact, aren’t Berkeley teachers being retrained to understand how different culture have conversations? I think it was Board member Hemphill that lauded some districts “for not doing suspensions anymore for defiance.” Now, that’s going to create an interesting classroom dynamic as teachers lose control of the classroom.

    But go ahead and find bias under every rock – I’m sure it’s there…

  • rhuberry

    Thank you, and in the article it also states that Ms. Luxford frequently called out to students ”inappropriate”. Seems to me that would be about inappropriate language or behavior for a classroom. Therefore … my assumption that learning how to talk to teachers was about respect, not asking for help.

    In my experience many of the students that end up in these sorts of programs wouldn’t need them if teachers along the way had required (or were allowed to require) the same level of discipline and ‘no excuses’ that teachers in these programs do. This tighter attention to detail and high academic and behavior standards is what most students need to thrive. Those who have high potential but may be struggling benefit even more from this type of structure.

  • Expensive

    $125000 for 60 students is around $2,000/student, in addition to the generous sums Berkeley already spends on all enrolled students. With the program expanding, I would hope that controls are in place to ensure that this outlay benefits Berkeley residents only. That should also be the case in view of the program’s laudable goal of partnering with parents to achieve results.

    Googling some of the more unique names in the story reveals non-Berkeley addresses. Could we get the district on record with some summary statistics about the number of students who are in these programs but not residents? I recall that academic performance is a prerequisite for issuing/renewing transfer permits to out of district students, along with a good behavior record.

  • Guest

    Now that the students are in college, they’ll have to self-motivate through homework assignments and appropriate behavioral choices. This is a tough transition: good luck to them.

  • Guest

    “Under another new program, the school has identified the students with the most discipline incidents and is stepping in with extra attention. ”

    Does the school review these cases and confirm residency before making these expenditures? District policy is that nonresident students lose permits if they are poorly behaved. This looks like a logical place for a verification step.

  • Guest

    Classroom composition is pretty clearly not the “greatest” predictor of a given student’s academic success. It can be a factor for certain students of certain abilities, but the greatest predictors of of academic success lie outside the classroom.

  • Guest

    Sure would love to be able to read that, but nothing called the “New Jersey state school assessment study” appears to exist in any publicly accessible repository.

  • guest

    >In my experience many of the students that end up in these sorts of
    programs wouldn’t need them if teachers along the way had required (or
    were allowed to require) the same level of discipline and ‘no excuses’
    that teachers in these programs do.

    It is unfortunate that teachers in Berkeley schools are discouraged from doing just that. While it might be upsetting for the students in the short run and cause an increase in suspensions it would ultimately benefit the students by teaching them the manners and behavior that are required in most workplaces.

  • Mary Flaherty

    The $125,000 budget is for the full bridge program, which was 114 students this year. See paragraph 5. So the cost is roughly half of your estimate. Regarding non-Berkeley addresses — please keep in mind that the district has about 600 legal transfer students — not all out-of-town students are fraudulently enrolled. Finally, keep in mind that these are students who entered high school with C averages, not failing students.

  • Mary Flaherty

    First, Armando Maravilla struck me as a particularly thoughtful, polite and well spoken young man, That’s why I chose to quote him, and I do not think he deserves the assumptions and insults above. When he said that one thing he learned in the program was “how to talk to teachers,” even I don’t know exactly what he meant. I wish i had asked more. Given his demeanor, i though perhaps he was shy. Second, to clarify, Ms. Luxford said “not appropriate” once while I was in the room for one hour. She called out regular comments for the students during that time — but “not appropriate” was only one.

  • bgal4

    “Finally, keep in mind that these are students who entered high school with C averages, not failing students.”

    Finally, keep in mind, for years the debate on achievement was centered on social promotion practices. GPA does not necessarily translate to grade level proficiency.

    The “Bridge” program ain’t new, we have seen many variations for decades. Outside of homework club, the program basically provides parenting tasks required to raise up functioning youth. If you add in other expenses the high school and district fund for parent outreach you get closer to the true cost of parent gap, residents and non-residents alike.

  • bgal4

    The #1 discipline problem in inner city schools is identified to be defiance. I do not think it fair to call this observation into question.

    I took the meaning of the quote differently. In this instance, I thought they were discussing how to encourage students develop a rapport with teachers especially when they are falling behind. A problem for many, not just those selected for the Bridge program.

  • guest

    Nope. Ta-Nehisi Coats has kindly explained to us that the only way forward involves endless genuflecting and massive financial compensation. Only then will the problem be solved.

  • Ed

    Family structure is actually the greatest predictor but you have a point about minimizing poor kids at a school.