The Bridge Program gives Dalit children the tools they need to succeed in high school and society.
Largely due to their background of severe poverty and discrimination, Dalit students enter secondary school significantly behind grade level. Many are unable to reach the required levels of achievement, and are forced to leave school when they are unable to pass the mandatory national exams. For these children, an "equal" education is not enough. For these children, a significantly better education is required to close the gap between them and their non-Dalit peers.
In order to prepare Dalit students to make the transition from elementary school to high school, DS has developed a Bridge Program that provides students with the intellectual, psychological and emotional skills to successfully meet the challenges of secondary education. The curriculum includes English, mathematics, science, computers, reading, creative writing, public speaking, music, art, sports and leadership training. Following their successful completion of the Bridge Program, students will be enrolled in an English-medium secondary school.
2008-2009 Class of Dalit Leadership Academy Bridge Program
- Selection Process: All applicants must have completed fifth grade. each year, DS invites applicants to attend a three-day camp at St. Patrick's Home. The camp gave the staff an opportunity to interact with the students, and to observe their interaction with each other. The selection process included a written exam, a written student essay, interviews and numerous periods of observation. Students were evaluated in the areas of intelligence, academic achievement, communication skills and potential leadership ability. Thirteen girls and twelve boys were selected for to the Academy's Bridge Program that began in June, 2007.
- Infrastructure: St. Patrick's School is located on twelve acres of land near the town of Villupuram in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. There are separate dormitory rooms for the boys and the girls, with sufficient space to accommodate 100 students. There are five classrooms, a computer lab, library and chapel, and dining facility. There is a substantial playground area. Rice, fruit and vegetables are grown on the campus.
- Program: Each student admitted to the Academy's Bridge Program, is provided with a full scholarship that includes tuition, room and board, health care, books and uniforms. In addition to the academic subjects of English, mathematics, science, reading and creative writing, the curriculum includes computer training, public speaking, art and music which provide students with a well rounded program of development. The student teacher ratio is 8:1. An educational action plan is developed for each student, based upon their individual needs. One-on-one tutoring is a basic component of the program. The principal and the faculty are required to reside at St. Patrick's.
- Academy Philosophy: Based upon our experience, it is our belief that in order for our students to close the achievement gap between themselves and students from a higher socio-economic background, they need three things: 1) more time in school; 2) specific achievement goals for each year, month and week; and 3) a conscious effort to guide their behavior and values. In an effort to reach these goals, our students attend school for eight hours each day instead of six, there are Saturday morning classes, and school runs for ten months of the year. Student achievement is tested frequently, and our staff receives continuous training with emphasis on team building, cooperation and creativity. Students are treated with love and respect, kindness and compassion. Unlike the majority of schools in India, corporal punishment is not an acceptable form of discipline at St. Patrick's. A strong emphasis will be placed on equal treatment for all, regardless of race, religion, caste or gender. Students are encouraged to ask questions, challenge authority, and negotiate rules with their teachers, in order to give them the necessary confidence to succeed in today's global society.
- Evaluation: Students are evaluated through regular academic testing. Teachers discuss students' progress with them on a regular basis, and parents and teachers meet twice each year. Students will also be asked to provide a written evaluation of their own progress, and will be asked to evaluate the program. Each student is required to keep a journal. The progress of our Academy students will be tracked until they complete their secondary education.
Because of their social and economic backgrounds, Dalit children, need intensive assistance if they are to have a chance to be successful in school and in today's society. DS believes that our Bridge Program, is the critical first step in this effort. It provides Dalit students with an extra year of education that will enable them to reach or surpass standard levels of achievement for sixth grade students as they begin their secondary education. It also provides them with the necessary confidence to succeed in today's competitive society.
Providing Dalit children with the best possible educational opportunities is more than our job—it is our lifework. Twelve boys and twelve girls are selected for each year's Bridge class.