Bridge to College: Valued Space for Learning

Holy Cross Abbey

The mark of a land’s worth isn’t found in its monuments. It resides in its children.

Bridge teens at work together

From boys hanging out on a free afternoon at the Bridge to College program in Dublin to a four-year old sharing her perspective on what was important for me to know about the Rock of Cashel, I was reminded in a recent educational trip across Ireland that if we listen to their voices, children will lead us to what’s important to them, not just what’s of worth to us.

Within the Bridge to College learning spaces, educators understand the value of teens coming together to work on challenging third level projects that they otherwise would likely get little chance to do in their second level programs in Dublin. They also understand the power of young people owning their own learning or as Bridge staff say,

“ … learning is a door that can only be opened from the inside.”

Jack, Keith, Sean, and Brian are young Dubliners who chose to spend their free Wednesday afternoon hanging out at the Bridge space to share perspectives with @irasocol, @_conorgalvin, and me about what works well @Bridge21Learn and what doesn’t work so well in their home schools when it comes to their learning potential.

“We learn to take initiative here, to have a sense of freedom in our work, and we’ve come to enjoy learning – unlike in school where we don’t get a choice of learning and where it’s all shoved at you – here we get to teach ourselves, we can learn from books, the Internet, and each other. What we learn that’s helped us back in our schools is the courage to express our own ideas.”

These boys articulated the basics of lifelong learning that cut across time. It’s what the best teachers have always provided to learners or that learners have found on their own – curiosity, choice, freedom, self-directedness, options, courage, and voice.

Kevin Sullivan, a computer programmer who came to volunteer at the Bridge a few years back but never left, now serves as a program coordinator. He says he loves working with the kids far more than he ever enjoyed his day job as a programmer. He also understands that what students take away from the Bridge experience is much more than simply learning technical skills using computers. “They come here often thinking they’re working on technology, but they’re really working on learning to work together.”

While this work may seem a perfect fit with what some in Ireland label as the Minister of Education’s push toward an economy-driven education, the mission of SUAS, sponsor of the Bridge to College programming, is one of social transformation:

“ … change education and you change the world. Key issues are not just about access but also quality – helping children and young people to go beyond the 3Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) to realizing their full potential to enable them to positively shape their futures and that of their communities and countries.We believe that we need an education system that also develops the 3 Cs: Character, full Capability and Commitment to others. This requires many changes: including a shift from a more instructive based approach to experiential learning within a values-based ethos.”

Located in Trinity College’s Oriel House on Fenian Street, the Bridge is an amazing learning space. From the painted murals on walls to the physical arrangement of spaces, young people work together here to explore how to power up their own ideas to influence the future of Ireland and serve others in their communities today. It’s a comfortable space, even though it’s equipped with old technologies cobbled together so the kids can explore project work – becoming in a matter of hours designers, makers, creators, engineers, team members, and leaders.

A learning space at the Bridge to College site

Created with support from a variety of partnership sources including both the Dublin City University and Trinity College, the Bridge to College space aims to help young people dream of futures that they otherwise might not have available. But, it’s not just about dreaming. One of the boys said to me, “I’m going to college. That’s not something I would have thought before coming here.”

Reflections by a Bridge to College teen learner

We’ve in my school district our own versions of the Bridge – AVID – being the most developed one.

Yet, I’m struck by the possibilities of different ways and spaces in which to learn as demonstrated in the Bridge. Offsite learning opportunities seem to offer a freedom and responsibility to learners that’s a bit lost in our U.S. schools. When kids come together for a week to accomplish challenging work, it creates a different, more intense, way of experiencing the necessity of collaboration in teams to accomplish what’s in front of you.

Could the Bridge to College Change “Normal” School?

In that afternoon visit, we were surrounded by the words of young people at the Bridge. Hanging from ceiling mounted mobiles, tacked to bulletin boards, and in animated chatter, the words of the kids say “we know what’s important to us as learners.”

Dr. Conor Galvin, lecturer at the School of Education and Lifelong Learning of the University College Dublin, told us that we would find learning magic at the Bridge to College, And, we did.

It’s a critical message and take away for me as I walk back into  schools here. It’s a message worth remembering.

About pamelamoran

Educator in Virginia, creating 21st c community learning spaces for all kinds of learners, both adults and young people. I read, garden, listen to music, and capture photo images mostly of the natural world. My posts represent a personal point of view on topics of interest.
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