Bridge Classes: A Model for Transition to Community College for ESL Students

May 19th, 2015 | By | Category: Adult, Community College, Levels
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Kristen Pursley


—Adult school “bridge” classes are one model for helping ESL students transition from adult school to community college. They also provide an opportunity for collaboration between adult school and community college ESL programs. Two Contra Costa County adult schools, Mount Diablo Adult School and West Contra Costa Adult Education, have had bridge classes for several years. Mount Diablo, in Concord, collaborates with Diablo Valley College, and West Contra Costa collaborates with Contra Costa College.

Both the Mount Diablo and West Contra Costa bridge classes prepare students for a particular major at the community college level: Early Childhood Education (ECE). The classes started as a collaboration with Catholic Charities of the East Bay’s Project Access, which provided support services for immigrant students working toward ECE units and helped them find jobs when they completed their education. Catholic Charities paid for an adult school teacher to write and pilot a curriculum for the bridge class. After that, the adult schools picked up the class and paid the teacher. Catholic Charities helped with recruiting for the class and supported the class in other ways, depending on its funding.

The bridge class curriculum is based on the content of one of the core Early Childhood Education classes in the community college. It introduces key concepts and vocabulary in a simplified format that is easier for English language learners to understand than college-level textbooks written for students who are native speakers or already proficient in English. The course also includes writing assignments to get students ready for the writing they will have to do in community college, and it introduces study skills that prepare the students for college work.

Under the Catholic Charities Project Access model, students would graduate from the bridge class and enroll in the community college, starting in one of the core ECE classes with a “linked” ESL class, taken concurrently, which supported the ECE class.

The model has potential to work with any college major. In West Contra Costa, Catholic Charities developed a program for students training to be medical assistants that included the bridge class model.

The model is not without its difficulties. Because the bridge class is linked to a particular major, it is necessary to recruit students who are interested in that major and have attained a level of English proficiency that puts college-level work within their reach. Students must also be eligible to work in the US when they complete their community college work. Because of this, it can be difficult to recruit and retain enough qualified students to sustain a viable adult school class with an average attendance of 15 students, especially in areas with large populations of undocumented immigrants.

The bridge class model in Contra Costa County provides an example of both the benefits and pitfalls of collaborating with grant-funded organizations, as the Regional Consortia encourage adult schools and community colleges to do. Catholic Charities provided the impetus for the creation of a unique program that linked the adult school to the community college. On the other hand, when Project Access lost its funding, the adult schools and community colleges lost Catholic Charities as an intermediary, as well as the wrap-around services Catholic Charities provided for students. The adult schools and community colleges involved are now working to collaborate more directly to continue providing the bridge class on the adult school side and the core classes with linked ESL classes on the community college side.

The Regional Consortia require that adult schools and community colleges collaborate. The bridge class provides one model for collaboration that may be expanded on in the future.

Kristen Pursley is Adult Level chair.


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