Livingstone program continues to bridge gap for some students

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 25, 2016

By Laurie D. Willis

Livingstone College News Service 

SALISBURY – Fall classes began at Livingstone College on Monday. But for about 100 incoming freshmen, you could say classes resumed.

That’s because the students were part of the institution’s Summer Bridge program, a six-week initiative during which they took classes in math, writing, reading, college skills and fitness and wellness. They also rose early each morning for devotion and attended sessions on conflict management and proper etiquette.

As its name suggests, the program was created to “bridge” the gap between what students didn’t learn in high school and what they need to know before becoming freshmen. The brainchild of Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr., the program has been met with much success since its creation and, in fact, just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

“There are many students who wouldn’t have been able to enroll at Livingstone, much less graduate, were it not for Dr. Jenkins’ vision in creating The Bridge Program,” said Vincia Benjamin Miller, assistant program director. “For students who need that extra push and a little bit more guidance than most, Bridge is perfect. The fact that it happens during the summer is also good because it affords students the chance to get acclimated to a college setting before the fall semester begins.”

Taliya Houston, 18, who in June graduated from East Bladen High School in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, was a Bridge participant over the summer. Originally from Queens, New York, she moved to Elizabethtown after flunking out of most of her classes during her first two years of high school in New York.

“After not doing well in school up north, I asked my maternal aunt Cynthia Jones if I could move to North Carolina and live with her,” Houston said. “I was leaning toward enlisting in the Air Force after graduation because I’d done well on ASVAB, but then I met a college advisor who started pushing me to do better and to think about attending college. I took the SAT and got a 1,410, so I applied to Livingstone and several other colleges but still wasn’t really thinking about going to college.”

Despite her interest in the service, Houston said something told her to give college a chance, so she applied to Livingstone and a few other schools.

“Once I did really well on my SAT, that’s when I began to get motivated,” she said. “But I still didn’t want to come to Livingstone even though I got accepted into the Bridge Program because I figured I’d serve four years in the Air Force and let them pay for college …”

Turns out, Houston’s high school prom helped seal the deal.

“I’d asked my mom to send my brother, Isaiah, down here so he could be my prom date,” Houston explained. “I also wanted a prom dress that cost $300. My mom told me if I got everything I was asking for, I had to do something for her. She wanted me to go through the six-week Bridge Program at Livingstone College, so I said okay.”

Houston acknowledges not liking Bridge initially – particularly since students had to rise and shine at 5:45 a.m.

“I was used to waking up early because I took the bus to school, but some of the students weren’t used to it and whenever some of us were late we all were penalized,” she said. “The first three weeks were pretty much rough as a whole because we had to learn to live with each other. Despite the rough beginning, I know Bridge has helped me and the other students. It’s like we have the upper hand on the other freshmen because we already know our way around campus, we’ve already met some upper classmen, we’ve met most of the staff that will assist us during our four years here and we’ve already met some professors.”

That’s music to the ears of Benjamin Miller and Bridge Program Director Sylvester Kyles, Jr.

“The truth is a lot of our Bridge students come in kicking and screaming, or, just like Taliya, with indifference toward the program,” Kyles said. “But by the time they graduate six weeks later, they’re singing its praises and thanking God for it, just like Taliya.”

Houston said she was moved during the 90-minute Bridge Program graduation ceremony, which was held July 29 at Livingstone’s School of Hospitality Management & Culinary Arts on Jake Alexander Boulevard and featured remarks by Jenkins and his wife Dr. Faleese Moore Jenkins. She also said she’d recommend Bridge to any student who didn’t fare well in high school but wants to attend a good institution and obtain a college degree.

“You know how it is with parents,” Houston said. “You’re not going to like everything they do. But Dr. Jenkins started that program for us, and I’m eternally grateful to him for that. It’s a great program, and there are a lot of kids who needed something just like it. To be honest, without Bridge I would not be in college right now.”