‘Bridge Year’ Pilot Project for New Jersey High Schools Expanded, Becomes Law

Legislation to expand an existing “bridge year” program across the state was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy June 26, giving graduating high school seniors from the classes of 2021 and 2022 the ability to defer graduation to participate in a bridge year immediately after their senior year.

The law would allow those students to take certain college level credits while participating in co-curricular activities or athletics in accordance with the goals of their individual learning plans.

“For countless high schoolers across the state, the spring term is critical to their academic careers. It’s a time when sophomores and juniors are supposed to be taking or preparing to take their college entrance exams, are participating in extracurriculars to explore their interests and engaging with their peers, doing community service or playing a competitive sport, some with the hope of being recruited to a college program,” said sponsors Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Mila Jasey (D-27) and Pamela Lampitt (D-6) in a joint statement.

Making Up for the Lost Time

The program was designed as a way to allow sophomore and juniors in high school to make up for crucial missed learning time as the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shutdown of schools across the state, according to State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36).

“The third and fourth marking periods were just ripped away from these kids. Losing in-person instruction for challenging college preparatory classes can negatively impact their grades and hurt their chances of being admitted to a more competitive college or receiving a scholarship,” he said after the bill was approved in the Senate.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) noted the legislation was just a first step.

“We hope to mirror the intent of this throughout K through 12, and will continue looking for innovative solutions to bridge the learning loss,” said Ruiz.

Ensuring Eligibility for School Activities

The bill was seen as a way to ensure students would not miss out on school activities that could be important to future careers, including programs focused on drama, film making and foreign languages.

The Community College Opportunity Grant Program would be leveraged to provide grants and scholarships to eligible bridge year applicants. At a county college, students would pay $145 per credit plus minimal lab fees.

Under the law, students would be able to play spring sports for the school they attended junior year and meet the age requirements prescribed by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Association. Students would be required to declare the bridge year before the beginning of the second semester of their senior year.

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