Summerbridge program promotes love of learning

Clapping and smiling last week during visitors day at La Jolla High School, the students of Summerbridge seemed to be absorbing the concept of the program: Getting younger students into learning.

And the enthusiasm of the college students who are their teachers showed the idea of “getting older students into teaching” seemed to be taking hold too.

Each visitor received a welcoming letter from a student. One read: “I love Summerbridge because without it I would be watching T.V. all day and then my head would start to hurt. Another reason ... is because of the nice teachers.”

For the past 17 years, La Jolla — first the Bishop’s School and now La Jolla High — has hosted a group of elementary and middle school students from some of San Diego Unified School District’s for five weeks of leadership and academic activities.

Malcome Aste, a board member who is the development director at Francis Parker School, praised the program for its “student-centric” focus for the fifth- through eighth-graders. They come out of their experience with a sense that “learning is fun and school is cool.”

Summerbridge is 501c3 nonprofit started by Zeke Knight, who spent years as a teacher, coach and development director at The Bishop’s School. Knight, a member of the La Jolla Rotary, chairs the board.

The program has a number of benefactors from the La Jolla Kiwanis Foundation and the Girard Foundation to churches, Mission Federal Credit Union and individuals like Crystal McKellar.

Aste noted that the teachers bring youth and enthusiasm and fresh ideas to the classrooms, while the students learn self-confidence and how to be leaders in the classroom.

The payoff, he explained, comes when they return to their schools and realize that if “others are being disruptive in class, it keeps them from learning.”

On July 14, the 105 students, their teachers, family, directors and friends turned out for a morning replete with singing, acting and classroom visits to highlight the program.

They even brought one student up on stage to honor him as student of the day, with tributes from all of the teachers.

Conrado Castro, a Lincoln High counselor who started as program director before taking over as executive director, beamed with pride when he watched the children step to the front of the stage.

Teachers include college students from UCSD as well as such campuses as University of Colorado and Princeton. A few are Summerbridge graduates; others are testing out their abilities in the classroom.

Evelyn Lucio, a UCSD grad who is now a program manager with Summerbridge, was once a “student like them” who now takes ownership in its benefits.

The daily routine, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. includes language arts, math and electives like dance, soccer and art, as well as a nutrition program, social development, leadership and public speaking, all with a focus on preparing them for future bound for college.