How Our Summer Bridge Accelerates Learning, Builds Advocacy

We know that the transition from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school, can be stressful for students. That’s why for more than 15 years, schools across Green Dot Public Schools California have helped students ease into new social and academic environments through Summer Bridge, our unique on-campus program designed to help students have a successful transition into the next stage of their education. 

For up to two weeks in July, newly enrolled students have the opportunity to explore their new campuses. Annette Gonzalez, the Chief Academic Officer for Green Dot Public Schools California, and a former Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School teacher, coordinates Summer Bridge across our 19 schools. “Summer Bridge is about acknowledging the transition from elementary school to middle school or from middle to high school,” Gonzalez said. “Students have the opportunity to meet principals and teachers, and have a moment to interact with classmates. Students feel welcomed, and they should feel like it’s a school that knows them. With summer bridge, the first day of school isn’t scary.” 

This year’s Summer Bridge will emphasize health and safety policies, academic assessments, and in-person relationships to make all students feel both safe and comfortable. Our schools will also provide socioemotional screeners for our students to link them to the necessary resources they may need before the first day of school.  “We want to make sure our students know how our school operates and that it is safe to come back to school. We’re helping our students adjust after 15 months of mostly remote learning,” Gonzalez said. Our schools will continue the socioemotional screeners on a monthly basis throughout the 2021-22 school year.

Building a Safer, Familiar Campus

At Ánimo Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School, Summer Bridge is a critical part to student induction. This year, incoming students explored the campus and got to know their teachers and school leaders during the first two weeks of July. 

Fabiola Guzman-Lopez, a sixth-grade social studies teacher, coordinates Summer Bridge at Ánimo Ellen Ochoa. “Summer Bridge is about creating culture in the classroom,” Guzman-Lopez said. “And everyone here is nurturing, welcoming, and inviting. We’re here to get students comfortable and happy to be at school.” Guzman-Lopez has led Summer Bridge before the Covid-19 pandemic, remotely in summer 2020, and now in-person in summer 2021.

Guzaman-Lopez recognizes this is a crucial summer for incoming middle school students, because many of them have not been on a school campus since the fourth grade. “That’s huge,” Guzman-Lopez said. “That’s why we want to spend this time helping students make this transition feel less scary. To ease their fears and let them know that it’s going to be okay.” 

Ánimo Ellen Ochoa principal Cynthia Ybarra hopes Summer Bridge helps connect with families ahead of the school year. “We held a Summer Bridge coffee with the principal and assistant principal to give parents tools to help them transition to having their child in school. Parents want to know if the kids are going to be safe, and we’re showing them how.”

Similar to the other schools across our network, Summer Bridge students at Ánimo Ellen Ochoa attended four classes: English, math, “School Culture,” and “Self-Advocacy”—the newest of the four courses. In the self-advocacy class, students learn how to find, ask for, and utilize the resources they need to protect and nurture their individual socioemotional needs. Dora Archilla, Ánimo Ellen Ochoa’s counselor and an Ánimo Inglewood class of 2010 alumna, taught the course this summer.

Ybarra, pleased with the results of the new self-advocacy course, is incredibly thankful. “Ms. Archilla jumped at the opportunity to teach this class because she saw, during the pandemic, the climbing numbers of referrals related to mental health and food insecurity,” Ybarra said. Teachers and school leaders began planning in the spring 2021 semester on how they could make a safe and successful Summer Bridge experience for their new students. “This is not one person’s idea,” Ybarra said. “Everyone here put in their ideas. All we’re looking to do is to make kids feel a sense of joy again about being in school.” 

Summer Bridge at Ánimo Ellen Ochoa is for all incoming middle school students at the beginning of every school year, no matter what grade level they are entering.

Summer Bridge

Unlike summer school, which establishes students for credit recovery, Summer Bridge is designed around preparing incoming students for rigorous course-work and helping to instill a college-going culture across campus. 

At Green Dot, our schools are launchpads designed to set our students on the trajectory of success. Summer Bridge is just one of the many ways we meet students where they are so they can excel in college, leadership, and life.