Bridges To Success Celebrates Success And Expands To Bridge Gaps For ELL Students

Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Professionals representing educational and nonprofit organizations, serving the cradle to career pipeline for the English Language Learner (ELL) community, gathered last month at Chattanooga State Community College to discuss the challenges immigrants in Hamilton County face on their path to citizenship and career development. During the evening’s program, Chattanooga State announced progress from the inaugural year of its Bridges to Success 2.0 program, an early postsecondary initiative providing ELL high school juniors a career pathway.

“BTS 2.0 is based on the successful model of Bridges to Success 1.0, which is a partnership with the City of Chattanooga and Chattanooga State to provide pathways to education and workforce development for our local immigrant community,” says Gladys Pienda-Loher, director of International Community Outreach at Chattanooga State.  "During the event, we learned Hispanic students account for roughly 10 percent of the student body in Hamilton County, with close to six percent having limited English proficiency. Based on achievement data from the TN State Report Card, ELL high school students are under-served in Tennessee and Hamilton County. For example: in high school English, only 5.5% of ELL students in our county scored proficient or advanced in the 2016 Tennessee Department of Education Report Card.

"It is not surprising that these early opportunity gaps create barriers for Hispanics in areas of postsecondary access and completion. Nearly half of the 11.2 percent of residents 25 years of age or older who fall into the category labeled 'Less than High School' are Hispanic residents. By race, Hispanic residents have the lowest combined percentage for postsecondary achievements in Hamilton County and fall a full percentage point behind Blacks and American Indians for residents attaining a 'bachelor’s degree or higher.'

"BTS 2.0 brings access and opportunity for high school students of color, specifically within the ELL community.  As part of the expansion of Bridges to Success, Chattanooga State is partnering with HCDE, and specifically Howard School, to create a career pathway for a cohort of 17 ELL students who are taking high school and college classes simultaneously. After two years, these students will have earned both their high school diploma and a postsecondary credential as a Computer Support Technician."

Zac Brown, HCDE director of Opportunity Schools, was in attendance for the celebration and captured the spirit of the evening’s discussion, “We want all of our students to walk across the stage at graduation. Programs like Bridges to Success give students hope that they will be able to overcome challenges.”

Hamilton County schools have seen a significant growth in Hispanic and English Learner populations, directly mirroring the growth across the state.

“When I think about the role in which I have the privilege of serving, the one thing that I can do is to make sure that schools, leaders and teachers have the resources necessary to ensure that our ELL community as a whole are supported.,” stated Dr. Bryan Johnson, Hamilton County Department of Education superintendent. “We need to be very intentional about supporting our ELL population as it continues to grow in Hamilton County.”

The work of Hamilton County schools, Chattanooga State and its partners in the Bridges to Success program go hand-in-hand with the goals of other efforts being done across the state with Drive to 55 and locally with Chattanooga 2.0.

"Chattanooga State Community College has created an innovative hybrid program for English Learners to have increased access to early postsecondary opportunities. With support from key leaders and partnerships, Bridges to Success will play a critical role in bridging the opportunity and achievement gaps that ELL students face in Hamilton County and, in return, increase economic stability for the entire community," officials said.

“One of our 2.0 goals is to double the number of graduates. That's all students, not just native speakers of English," said Chattanooga 2.0 Executive Director Jared Bigham. “If we're going to say all, then all means all.”

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