The program, which holds five-week summer sessions at local private schools, aims to prepare fifth- through eighth-grade students so they are on the college track when they get to high school. The sessions include a mix of academic and enrichment classes, plus recreational activities.
The program has grown quite a bit since it started in 1990 with 26 kids. This summer it has 400 students, a third more than in 2010. Now the goal is to reach 600 students by 2015. With growing enrollment has come new school sites. This year, two more schools — Pinewood in Los Altos and Saint Francis in Palo Alto — host Peninsula Bridge summer sessions, bringing the number of participating campuses to nine, including two at Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton.
Menlo School in Atherton and Woodside Priory in Portola Valley are also in the program.
Deirdre Marlowe, executive director of Peninsula Bridge, said she'd like to find a way to offer services to the students during the school year, possible by forming a closer relationship with local public schools. Though private schools provide the campuses and a large amount of backing for Peninsula Bridge, most students come from public institutions, and the more than 15 public schools in the area also support the program, said Sherri Shaner, Peninsula Bridge's development director.
Academically, Peninsula Bridge students focus on English and mathematics, reviewing what they studied at school over the past year and preparing for the next. The average student-teacher ratio is 4 to 1, giving the kids extensive "individual attention," said Ms. Shaner.
Weekly field trips and daily classes on such topics as nutrition and art provide valuable extracurricular experience "often lost in middle school" but important to develop student confidence in the classroom, she said.
Students attend a different campus each year so they can experience new environments and use what each school has to offer, explained Ms. Shaner. The fifth-graders attend single-sex campuses, but after the first year the campuses are co-ed.
At Castilleja School in Palo Alto, fifth-grade girls use the dance studio to practice dance, something "many have never experienced before," said one of the teacher assistants.
An important aspect of the Bridge program is the leadership role of teacher assistants, who are high school and college-age volunteers.
Many of the assistants have participated in Bridge programs as students, and want to give back, said Mary Hulburt, site director at Castilleja. "I've never had to recruit TAs," she said.
Because the assistants come from similar circumstances, the students relate to them and look up to them, said Ms. Shaner — a sentiment seconded by the Castilleja school director and the students themselves.
The assistants grow into leadership roles by teaching classes, creating their own curriculum, and providing role models for the Bridge participants, said a descriptive flier.
This year an Olympics theme permeates many activities, such as a "walk to London" challenge, where students strap on pedometers and, working in teams, try to walk the total number of miles between here and London. The goal is to remind students of the hard work needed to achieve success.
At Castilleja, some of the girls are "getting very into it," Ms. Shaner said with a laugh. The girls run up the stairs and jump in line to fit in as many steps as possible into their day.
Visit peninsulabridge.org for more information on the Peninsula Bridge prograrm.