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Jump-starting the college experience with Bridge

Responsibility, discipline and focus. Those are the three key ingredients that make a Bridge student successful and help shave years off post-graduate education, saving families thousands of dollars in college tuition. A little more than two year...

The Bridge Kids, from left to right, McKenzie Norton, 18, Laney Tietze, 16, and Dylan Hansen, 19, meet with Mitchell High School counselor Kathy Mills, at the school's library on Wednesday for a casual get-together to discuss the Bridge Program. (Sheila Slater / Daily Republic )
The Bridge Kids, from left to right, McKenzie Norton, 18, Laney Tietze, 16, and Dylan Hansen, 19, meet with Mitchell High School counselor Kathy Mills, at the school's library on Wednesday for a casual get-together to discuss the Bridge Program. (Sheila Slater / Daily Republic )

Responsibility, discipline and focus.

Those are the three key ingredients that make a Bridge student successful and help shave years off post-graduate education, saving families thousands of dollars in college tuition.

A little more than two years ago, Mitchell High School Counselor Kathy Mills and Dakota Wesleyan University Director of Admissions Jordan Gau, designed the Bridge Program for the Mitchell School District with the goal of giving high school students a jump start on college and helping facilitate a successful transition into college life.

"We work individualized with these kids," Gau said. "We get a feel on what they want to do and what they want to study in college so we can prep them with the courses we think will be beneficial for them."

Students interested in the program must maintain a 3.0 GPA, be recommended by the high school counselor, have a good attendance record and maintain at least a "C" average in all DWU courses.

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"One of the gifts a Bridge kid has is that they are well organized," Mills said. "They know they have to be places, that we expect more and they know how to deliver."

While all high school students are sure to face challenges, dual enrollment is an opportunity for students to not only learn the content of the courses they take, but more importantly how to be successful college students.

Dylan Hansen, of Mitchell, was one of the first Bridge students in the Mitchell School District. When he was 15, he spent his summer taking classes at Mitchell Technical Institute studying to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA). He completed his coursework in June, celebrated his 16th birthday in September, and sat for the CNA exam in October.

"I finished all my high school classes and wanted to get the dual credits done so I could be able to focus on my career," Hansen said. "I've worked for Avera Health in Mitchell since I was a junior in high school. That sparked my interest in the nursing field."

Now, at age 19, Hansen is enrolled at DWU as a sophomore, well on his way to completing his college one year early with a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

McKenzie Norton is another trailblazer of the Bridge Program studying to earn her degree in elementary education. The former Miss Mitchell Outstanding Teen graduated from MHS last fall with two years' worth of college credits at DWU.

"When I first met McKenzie, I thought she was just a regular college student," Gau said. "She's taken full course loads, the same load a college student here at DWU would take."

Amid her busy schedule, Norton found the time to compete in pageants and reach out to other students in the community presenting her YOU MATTER Project, a cause based on her experiences of feeling out of place and being bullied, but also on her ability to rise above and understand the importance of making others feel important.

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Norton's platform and message continue to inspire other young teenagers, like 15-year-old Laney Tietze, who won the title Miss Mitchell Outstanding Teen last year and just recently signed up for her first dual credit class.

"I heard about the Bridge Program through McKenzie. We were in pageants together," Tietze said. "I'm an academic athlete and wanted to achieve a lot in high school, so that is why I started the program."

Tietze, a high school sophomore, hopes to be more involved in the program next semester by adding various dual credit classes to her workload.

"Being a Bridge kid has been a big confidence-builder for me," Tietze said. "You are exposed to a lot more, like going to a different school, meeting different people."

Cost saving

Aside from documented academic gains, pursuing dual credit classes while in high school has considerable cost-saving benefits, too. For South Dakota residents, DWU's on-campus classes for high school students in the Bridge Program are offered at $180 per credit hour, and MHS off-campus classes are offered at $70 per credit hour. The regular cost of classes at DWU is $550 per hour.

MHS students are responsible for paying for any and all course and book fees associated with the program prior to the start of coursework and are responsible for consulting with other institutions regarding the transferability of courses taken through this program.

MHS principal Joe Childs is pleased with the success of the program and looks forward to continuing the program and working relationship with DWU to provide students and their families a pathway for future success.

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"I really view my position at the high school as one where I remove barriers," Childs said.

Related Topics: DAKOTA WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY
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