Livingstone’s Bridge program helps students achieve academic success

  • Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013 1:02 a.m.
Dean McGriff teaches African-American history to students.
Dean McGriff teaches African-American history to students.

Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. isn’t waiting on the pundits to decide whether U.S. education has reached the crisis point — because students like Rashad Wasson and MaQue McMullen can’t afford for him to.

Wasson and McMullen graduated from high school with the kind of academic deficiencies that would get their admission applications tossed in the trash at most institutions of higher learning.


But just as he’s done since assuming the top administrative post at Livingstone College in 2006, Jenkins took a chance on Wasson, McMullen and dozens of other students with similar circumstances and allowed them to enter the college’s Summer Bridge Program.

By doing so, Jenkins has given Wasson and McMullen a chance to prove they have the intellectual capability to earn college degrees and become productive members of the global society.

He’s not too worried about whether they and other members of the 2013 Bridge class will make it because history has already proven correct his hypothesis that if you simply push, encourage and motivate students in the right way, they can be successful.

Jenkins need not look any further than Eugene Brown, who came in through the college’s Bridge Program but graduated with honors in 2012. Brown twice interned on Capitol Hill before graduating and now works for President Barack Obama’s White House Initiative on HBCUs.

Dymekea Bellamy, another former Bridge student, finished her undergraduate degree in three years and is in graduate school at Winston-Salem State University with aspirations of becoming a physician.

“Each summer we bring in students to help them bridge the gap between high school and college so they can enroll at Livingstone in the fall,” Jenkins said. “While there’s no question the Bridge students come here with academic shortcomings, the reality is many of them become some of our top students by the time they graduate.”

That’s ironic, given most Bridge students like Wasson and McMullen pretty much disregarded high school and never really gave a moment’s thought to attending college.

Wasson, who graduated from Statesville High School, admits spending much more time concentrating on athletics than he did academics. And McMullen, a graduate of Chicago Vocational Career Academy, said she didn’t really take high school seriously until her senior year.

And so it goes.

During introductions in oral communication class, a succession of students acknowledged not taking high school seriously for reasons ranging from the lack of strong parental guidance to just wanting to have fun instead. Students readily admitted sleeping through class — when they bothered to go at all.

The good news for Livingstone College’s Bridge Class of 2013 is that what they did in high school – or more accurately didn’t do – is behind them.

And on Friday night after Bridge Program Director Sylvester Kyles, Jr. announces their names during the graduation ceremony, they’ll go home for a few weeks before returning to enter Livingstone provisionally for the 2013-2014 academic year.

“I feel as though Bridge will help me not become a statistic, you know, a black male in prison or a black male who fathers children by several different women,” said Daniel Walker, who was raised in Miami but graduated from Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Ga. “When a lot of us came here, we were immature and basically didn’t know the proper way to act, but the Bridge Program has helped us learn how to think before we act.”

Alexus Lovette of Charlotte, a graduate of West Mecklenburg High School, said the Bridge Program helped her with time management and her attitude.

“I also learned how to be kind to others, which is very important because people deserve to be treated properly and with respect,” Lovette said. “Not to mention, some of the people I’m in Bridge with now may become CEOs of companies and have jobs to offer me in the future.”

Walker and Lovette weren’t always so high on the program. In fact, many of the Bridge students hated it at first. For example, Tyler West of Los Angeles started texting relatives and begging them to come get him just hours after arriving on campus. And he wasn’t alone.

Truthfully, just about all of the students initially likened Bridge to boot camp. Perhaps that’s because they had to run laps around Livingstone’s track and jog the bleachers inside Alumni Memorial Stadium from 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. each morning.

Or it could be because they weren’t allowed to have TVs in their residence hall rooms, cell phones were confiscated if they dared whip them out in class and lights went out nightly at 11.

And then, of course, there’s the class work.

Bridge students were taught math, reading, writing, oral communication, computer information systems and African-American history.

Manuel McGriff, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean of students, taught African-American history. McGriff went out of his way to make his class fun while instilling pride in the students.

He covered virtually every inch of his walls with photos of famous African-Americans, many who are well known like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, and others who are lesser known, like Fannie Lou Hamer and Walter Mosley.

Each morning around 8:40 a.m., five minutes before classes began; Livingstone’s alma mater or “Lift Every Voice and Sing” could be heard blaring from a boom box in his room. And McGriff spared no expenses when it came to purchasing snacks for his students.

“My favorite class was African-American history because Dean McGriff helped us learn things, for example the alma mater,” said Sydney Robertson, who was chosen by instructors as one of the 12 most outstanding Bridge students for 2013. “He stressed to us the importance of knowing our history and tried to make the class engaging, which was something that stood out to me.”

McGriff wasn’t trying to outshine his fellow Bridge instructors. He simply joins them in wanting the students to succeed.

“There are a lot of famous African-Americans, but in middle and high school students are taught about only a handful of them,” McGriff said. “So I filled my walls with as many photos of famous African-Americans as possible to try to help the students understand and appreciate our rich history and the value we add to America and the world.”

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