‘Bridge Year’ Bill Allowing Extra Year Of High School for New Jersey Students Advances

A proposal to allow current juniors and sophomores at New Jersey high schools to voluntarily stay enrolled in high school for an extra year after 12th grade is making its way through the state Legislature.

The bills, which would create a “bridge year” option for students set to graduate in 2021 and 2022 that were impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee on May 11 and the Senate Budget Committee a week prior.

Both pieces of legislation were introduced following Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year as part of New Jersey’s overall effort to combat the spread of the virus and remote learning will continue for the state’s 1.4 million students.

After the school year was upended, state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) said lawmakers are looking for ways to help “bridge the learning loss” for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We understand this has been hard on students for a variety of reasons and it is important we are taking into account all aspects of a student’s academic experiences while working to mitigate the impact of COVID-19,” Ruiz said in a press release.

Three-Year Bridge Program

Under S-2383/A-4142, students would be allowed to defer graduation and remain enrolled in high school while taking a certain number of college credits on a non-matriculated status. Additionally, students would be able to participate in extracurricular activities at their high school and Spring sports.

“Despite schools and educators finding innovative ways to keep the student body connected through distance learning, some activities simply don’t translate in an online setting,” Assembly members Pamela Lampitt (D-6) and Mila Jasey (D-27),the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement.

Ruiz, who co-sponsored the legislation with state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36), noted how critical sophomore and junior years are to the college application and pointed out many students’ plans to tour campuses and prepared for college entrance exams were disrupted by the ongoing public health emergency.

“The bridge year can provide students the opportunity to retake SATs and carefully consider their college decision while completing gen-ed courses and gaining valuable experience from high school extracurriculars,” Ruiz said.

The plan, Sarlo said, is “academically driven” because it provides the opportunity to go to college as a non-matriculated student at a reduced rate to take courses “that will prepare them for a four-year college, retake SATs to improve their scores and return to their high school to play a spring sport or participate in a school activity they missed out on this year.”

Program Requirements

  • Students would only be able to play spring sports for the school they attended junior year and must meet the age participation requirements of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Association and would have to declare for the bridge year prior to the start of the second semester of their senior year.
  • Students can take 24 college credits at a New Jersey community college for $145 per credit, plus minimal lab fees if necessary.
  • Credits would be transferable to any New Jersey public institution and to private or out-of-state schools that choose to accept them. Students pursuing a bridge year would be eligible for grants and scholarships under the tuition aid program or the NJSTARS program if they meet all other eligibility requirements.

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