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Laura Seitz, Deseret News archives
Students hang out in between classes at Horizonte in this 2003 file photo. The Horizonte Instruction and Training Center and Salt Lake Community College have partnered for a spring "bridge" class that helps students familiarize themselves with a college education.
We’re hoping in this cooperative arrangement we can encourage these students to come in and college won’t be such a scary or unusual experience for them. For many of them, college is not the first thought. —Kevin Miller, SLCC's director for student conduct and support services

SALT LAKE CITY — An alternative high school has partnered with Salt Lake Community College to offer a multiple-week "bridge" class aimed at helping students with the transition to higher education.

Through the class, students at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center — which serves both youths and adult students in the greater Salt Lake area — attend the SLCC South City Campus three times each week to receive help registering for classes, applying for financial aid, orienting themselves to the campus, and being tutored on college-level writing.

"The goal is to help them navigate the process and orient them to the rigors of college and give them a little taste of the environment," said Kimball Young, a member of the Horizonte Scholarship Fund board of directors.

The class is open to graduating Horizonte students who have received school scholarships, with receipt of scholarship funds contingent on attendance in the bridge program, Young said.

The Horizonte Scholarship Fund awarded roughly $70,000 in aid to 47 students this year, with a focus on those from low-income families, he said.

But Young said the bridge program is about more than just helping students with the costs of college. He said the program is intended to familiarize students with higher education as they approach the end of their high school education.

"It’s not just a problem of affordability," Young said. "It’s a problem of navigation, comfort, familiarity and ownership, so to speak, feeling like you're part of something that is going to be rewarding for you when you graduate."

Horizonte Principal Mindi Holmdahl said that in the past it was relatively common for scholarships to go unused. She said students would intend to enroll in college courses but would become intimidated by the process by the time classes began in the fall.

"I’m hoping that the impact (of the bridge class) is students who complete this course feel confident and ready to move forward with college," she said.

Kevin Miller, SLCC's director for student conduct and support services, said many of the students who participate in the bridge program are first-generation college students who may not have viewed higher education as an expectation in their lives.

"We’re hoping in this cooperative arrangement we can encourage these students to come in and college won’t be such a scary or unusual experience for them," he said. "For many of them, college is not the first thought."

Miller said the bridge class is different from a typical college orientation session. Students attend the class over a number of weeks and receive a comprehensive vision of what to expect when they enroll.

"Typically an orientation is a couple of hours, and it’s a lot of information," Miller said. "These students are boots on the ground."

The bridge program is one of a number of initiatives at SLCC aimed at helping incoming students familiarize themselves with campus life, Miller said. He said he has been pleased with the progress of the program and hopes it can expand beyond Horizonte in the future.

"We’re really glad to have an opportunity to serve this group of students and look forward to opportunities to expand this type of service to other students coming from alternative schools across the valley," Miller said.

Attendance in the program has been roughly 66 percent, Young said, and school officials hope to find ways to increase participation as the program continues to develop.

"Since this is the first time we’ve done it, it’s an experimental situation, and we’re seeing what works and what doesn’t work," he said. "We’ll be doing some things next year that will give the students more exposure to college settings and to college staff and college faculty during the school year."

Holmdahl described the current bridge class, which began on April 21, as a "pilot year" for the program. She said it remains to be seen how many scholarship recipients follow through by attending college courses in the fall, but educators are committed to learning from and improving the program.

"We’re just hoping to learn a lot from this year’s cohort and really hoping that it makes a difference for our students," she said.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: bjaminwood