Bridges to Academic Success is a one-year intervention for newcomer adolescents who arrive in US schools with limited academic preparation and low levels of home language literacy. Bridges prepares these students with the foundational language and literacy skills and background content knowledge they will need to succeed in mainstream secondary school classes, once they exit the Bridges program.

Bridges is based at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. It is housed within the Center for Advanced Study in Education (CASE) and works onsite at schools in NYC and in upper New York State.

Bridges was conceived from two directions: Dr. Elaine Klein had been doing SIFE research for several years and, with her colleague Dr. Gita Martohardjono, had presented a list of recommendations in a 2006 report to the New York Department of Education (NYCDOE); among those recommendations was the development of an intervention for SIFE that included a transitional year during which these students would gain the skills and knowledge to prepare them for subsequent academic work. At the same time, Suzanna McNamara, along with Annie Smith, had been working with SIFE in some Bronx high schools and concluded that a specialized curriculum for these students was desperately needed; Ms. McNamara received a semester’s sabbatical, supported by the NYCDOE, and undertook the task of starting a Bridges curriculum that would begin to provide pathways to aid SIFE in academic achievement. Ms. McNamara and Dr. Klein joined forces and officially inaugurated Bridges with funding they received from the NYCDOE and the New York Community Trust.

Bridges is intended for adolescent students newly arrived in the US (here less than 1.5 years) from other countries, preparing to enter secondary school here. These students are limited in their prior education and have low levels of literacy in their home languages.

Officially, SIFE are defined by the NYSED as Students with Interrupted or Insufficient Formal Education, who are newcomers to the US, who are English language learners, and who have limited academic skills when they enter US schools. Bridges students are a subset of SIFE and are further challenged by very limited literacy in their home languages.

The primary goal of the program is to provide intensive academic support, over a period of one school year, to selected newcomer adolescent students with limited home language literacy, who otherwise would have difficulty accessing mainstream content area material at the secondary school level. Another goal of the program is to provide an age-appropriate, academically-rich curriculum, materials and resources, with the purpose of developing a successful multilingual school population. Finally, we aim to engage and inform teachers and administrators in instructional methodologies to enhance learning among the secondary school student population, especially those who have emigrated from other countries.

Until Bridges, there were no resources to adequately serve the needs of an adolescent population of newcomers with limited home language literacy and schools continued to struggle with the high dropout and low graduation rates of these students around the country. In particular, attempts to improve the academic success of these students were severely limited and, to our knowledge, there had not been a specialized curriculum developed to fill the severe gaps in their skills and knowledge. Bridges is therefore critical in that it provides students with an intensive and accelerated academic year to gain the required background for achievement in school. It uses a specially developed Bridges Curriculum geared to the academic needs of this unique student population, taught by teachers trained to implement this curriculum in each of the content areas required in secondary school

The Bridges Staff is made up of an academic and instructional team, which includes a leadership and management component made up of Principal Investigators, Project Directors, and a financial manager; a Curriculum Developer working with a large team of subject area, language (including multilingual) and literacy consultants, technical experts and reviewers; a Professional Development Coordinator working with a team of PD facilitators and coaches.
At the school level, Bridges consists of the school principal and/or the school administrator(s) overseeing the interdisciplinary Bridges team, made up of subject area teachers (math, science, social studies, ELA) and a team leader; this team is responsible for collaboratively preparing for and teaching a class of Bridges students who remain as a group for the entire school day over a period of one school year.

We are working with schools in the following school districts: New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and Utica. The names of our particular schools remain private information.

At this time, we are working on two major projects: The development of a SIFE Curriculum in English Language Arts and Foundational Language and Literacy to be distributed to secondary schools in New York State through the website of the NYSED, EngageNY. The second project is the continuation and improvement of our present Bridges Programs in NYS school districts with SIFE populations at the secondary school level, with the aim of scaling up to further schools.

Bridges was funded by the New York Community Trust its first two years and the NYCDOE, which continues to support it. In the last three years, Bridges has been funded by the New York State Department of Education.
Our primary partnerships are between CUNY, our funders, and the schools we serve. At the CUNY Graduate Center, we are associated with two research centers: CASE (as reported earlier) and the Research Institute for the Study of Language in Urban Society (RISLUS).

The effectiveness of our program has not yet been documented, except for an evaluation at the two year mark, which indicated that the program has much promise. Informal, qualitative data (e.g. interviews with teachers, students, administrators, student work) show that students and teachers are happy to participate in Bridges and principals indicate that there is a ‘ripple effect’ such that many of Bridges instructional methods are now being used in non-Bridges classrooms, with students benefiting academically and socially.
There are many areas of research that support the view that immigrant students benefit when a program – in this case Bridges:
• uses a curriculum that develops the particular content knowledge and language and literacy skills these students need for academic success
• integrates language, literacy and academic content into all classes
• builds on the home language to gain English skills
• builds on background knowledge to support new academic concepts
• improves students’ critical thinking and technical skills
• creates a sense of community for the development of successful academic learners
• uses materials that are age and grade appropriate, for motivation and academic gains
• enhances the skills and knowledge of teachers
• focuses on discovery learning to develop independent thinking and conceptual advancement
• provides students with enough time to gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed

A school can build a Bridges Program by contacting school district personnel or a leader of the Bridges Program through our website. If resources allow, a meeting with teachers and administrators can be set up with representatives of the Bridges team at which the program is explained and discussed. Setting up a Bridges Program requires a strong commitment by school administrators and a team of teachers, willing to attend a series of Bridges PD sessions. Depending on funding, a school’s Bridges Program can be supported by onsite coaching and other resources.