Before I started in the Bridge Year Program, I was the shy girl who sat in the back of the class praying that the teacher would not call on her. Now I jump at any chance to talk. I find myself excited to get in debates with my classmates, when before, the thought of speaking out loud was equivalent to jumping off a cliff. I have broken out of my shell and have begun the path that is life.
The Bridge Year Program is a two-year experience that offers 30 college credits to students who take a series of rigorous college-level courses and complete two years at a career and technical education (CTE) center. It’s an opportunity that equals out to the first year of college, providing a jump start on life.
This program is first introduced to students in the middle of their sophomore year. Those who are accepted begin their college classes at the start of their junior year with their cohort. During the course of their two years, students are enrolled in a CTE center, which allows them the chance to explore potential careers. Through the CTE program, students are offered job shadows, scholarships, and college touring trips. Last year my cohort took a trip across Maine to visit colleges like the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Machias, Fort Kent, and Eastern Maine Community College.
I attend the Lewiston Regional Technical Center (LRTC), and I have always wanted to pursue a career in veterinary sciences, however LRTC did not offer a veterinary program. Instead I took a hospitality course that I ended up loving. Other students in my cohort have been pleased with the classes and administrators overall. However, the CTE centers are not the true wonders of the program; the wonders come from the students and the journey they travel along the way.
I first heard about Bridge Year during one of my individual education program meetings. These offer support for students who have learning disabilities, and I have struggled with my disability from elementary all the way up into high school. However, my disability did not stop me from wanting to join this program. I was scared, and I did not know if I would be able to thrive within the curriculum. I was afraid to put all my effort into a program that I might have to drop later on. However, one administrator, Mr. James Horn, helped me to believe in myself. He has been with me since the beginning of my high school career and has seen how far I have come and how hard I have fought to get to the level two classes that I was in. Mr. Horn warned me that Bridge Year was a hard program, and I would not be jumping up to a level four class, but a level five. He saw the doubt in my eyes, and all he did was look at me and tell me that I would make it because I am a fighter. Ever since that day I have worked 10 times harder than I ever have in my life.
Some may ask, “Why put yourself through such a rigorous course, knowing you have a learning disability?” The only answer I have is this: I am not my learning disability. It does not slow me down, nor do I let it. This disability is in fact fuel to make me work harder and to never stop at “good enough,” but to stop at greatness.
Why choose the Bridge Year program? Bridge Year prepares students for the real world, something high schools do not always have the time for. Most importantly, it helps its students to become better people. Although Bridge Year offers many educational opportunities, it is important to recognize that this program gives more to its students than an education.
Bridge Year is not just about earning college credits. Yes, it was created for students to gain college credits along with the college experience. However, it gives so much more in return. When I first started Bridge Year, I never knew that I would grow in the way I have, nor did I think I would have made the connections I have today. When people think of a program that offers college credits they typically do not take the time to see what it offers beyond that. In this fashion people lose sight of the true attributes that education offers.
Bridge Year has created a family; at some point every student will help another. Not all cohorts will work out, and not all will be the best of friends, but being friends is not what matters. What really matters, is that these individuals grow on one another, whether that be by making friendships, or by watching others fall and then turn around and rise from their own ashes. I personally have experienced self-growth and realization.
Bridge Year is a rigorous course and is not for the faint of heart. Succeeding takes sweat, blood, and tears, and especially tears. I had times when I wanted to give up because the work was building on my shoulders and with every assignment I felt the weight get more intense. However, I never stopped plowing through the many challenges that Bridge Year presents. The students in my cohort have never given up, so how could I? That’s the thing about Bridge; it teaches students how to be resilient and to grab challenges by the horns. I may not know exactly what I want to pursue in my life right here and now, but what I do know is that Bridge Year has prepared me for whatever path I choose.
Bridge Year has formed me into the new person I am today, a fighter. I remember being a young girl wondering what I would become, who I would be, and who my friends would be. I was so worried about my future, and now that I am here, I have realized that my young self would be so proud of who I am today. Bridge Year has made a once shy and quite girl not afraid of the world anymore, but ready to embrace the future and the many more challenges to come.
Hannah Footer is a student at Edward Little High School in Auburn and the Lewiston Regional Technical Center.