Few schools spell out their mission in their name as well as Bridge Academy of Southwest Michigan, a charter school in Benton Harbor. The school’s mission is truly to bridge the gap between education and employment for students in that part of the state.
The goal is to give students who have had trouble finding success in other school settings the education and skills they need to find not only a job, but a career.
Originally founded as a program through the Michigan Works! center in Benton Harbor, Bridge Academy of Southwest Michigan became a charter school in 2021 to better serve its student population. The school is authorized by Central Michigan University.
Like many charter schools, Bridge Academy of Southwest Michigan provides career and technical education in individualized ways.
One of the student success stories at Bridge Academy of Southwest Michigan is Sha’Varia Nichols, who was part of the first charter school graduating class in 2022.
“When I first found Bridge Academy, I was at my lowest point in life,” she said during a ribbon-cutting at the school’s new facility in August. “I felt down on myself and defeated. My goal of graduating high school almost felt incomplete. Traditional schools didn’t give me enough support. My other schools were a little too chaotic for me to focus and I felt like I was lost in the crowd.
“Bridge Academy welcomed me when I was on the verge of giving up,” she added. “The small classes and the family atmosphere made me feel valued. They wouldn’t accept me giving up on myself and I’m so grateful for that. Walking across that stage at graduation was a proud moment for me.”
Sha’Varia is now a freshman at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, eyeing a career in the health-care field. All thanks to Bridge Academy of Southwest Michigan.
A large part of the school’s success is its partnership with Kinexus Group, an organizion in Southwest Michigan that brings a variety of community groups together to help economically disadvantaged people succeed as they grow the workforce in the area. School leader Allie Knapp said that partnership has been invaluable at helping students like Sha’Varia succeed.
“Today is proof that partnerships, grit and hard work will get results; which is true for our team as we celebrate the launch of this district, but also for our students who enroll with goals and will spend time in this space to achieve them,” Knapp said at the ribbon-cutting. “Education is more than just writing and math, and our whole-child approach to learning will engage, attract, and launch so many bright futures to come. And the future is bright at the Bridge Academy of Southwest Michigan.”