Created with a gift from an anonymous donor twelve years ago, Furman University’s “Bridges to a Brighter Future” program to help low income, academically promising teenagers receive learning and life-changing experiences in a college setting is now gaining national recognition. The National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University has named the program as one of the nation’s best summer programs. In the 12 year existence of the program 100 percent of the students have graduated from high school or earned their G.E.D. 93 percent have enrolled in college. Program director Tobi Swartz says each summer about 75 teenagers participate in the four week program where they get to live on campus, take stimulating classes, and have a little fun as well. Swartz says the program serves students from the 14 public high schools in Greenville County.
“We work with their guidance counselors in the high schools and teachers and principals to identify students whose potential outdistances their circumstances. Once those students are identified and nominated, they go through an intensive selection process that includes an application and an interview. We individually select students based on their application and interview.”
Students accepted into the program come from families that earn less than $35,000 a year. 78 percent of the parents have a high school education or less. This year’s summer program begins Saturday, June 13.
Swartz says the program doesn’t end during the summer. Students are invited back in the fall in a program called “Saturday college.” “The students come back to Furman one Saturday a month for tutoring and academic enrichment workshops. Students are selected as ninth graders for the program and continue through high school graduation. One of the great components of the program is that they are actually in the program for three years.”
Swartz says the three year length of the program gives teachers and counselors a chance to work with students over time.
Swartz says the faculty for the program consists of 10 Greenville County teachers certified to teach high school students. 13 Furman student counselors stay in the dormitories with the students and work with them during evenings.
“Our classes include math, English, social studies, science, and art. We also have elective classes the students select to participate in which includes pottery, documentary film making, and forensic science.”
Swartz says the program is limited to 75 to 80 each summer in order to make sure each student gets individualized attention and also to create a family atmosphere.