Germanna Community College President David A. Sam gazed out at an auditorium jam-packed with students, parents and educators.
The 60 newly minted graduates of the Gladys P. Todd Academy’s Summer Bridge program sat up front.
They had just spent two weeks learning more about the rigors of college coursework through lectures, projects and field trips that culminated in a final presentation and skit.
The academy, which launches this fall, honors Todd, the Fredericksburg-area education and civil rights proponent who died Jan. 20 at age 101.
The academy and summer program stem from a partnership between Germanna, Fredericksburg City Schools, Spotsylvania County Public Schools and philanthropist Doris Buffett’s Sunshine Lady Foundation.
The academy’s early college program—which will bring students to Germanna on weekdays for two classes—will allow eligible students to earn an associate’s degree in general studies by the time they graduate from high school.
Students won’t pay a dime for the approximately $25,000 opportunity, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation.
Sam, a first-generation college student who went on to earn his Ph.D., shared stories about the influence family members and educators had on his life.
“When I went to university, even though I had no idea what I was doing, I had a lot of people believing in me and a lot of people supporting me,” he said. “And that’s what this program is about. I hope that you are blessed the way that I was blessed.”
Project Director Antwan Perry said a conversation with Buffett lit the spark for the academy. They discussed “how we could [help] young people in the area get a jumpstart on their educations.”
The summer program was open to students from four schools—Post Oak Middle and Spotsylvania High in Spotsylvania County, and Walker–Grant Middle and James Monroe High in Fredericksburg. It provided a “bridge” to higher education for students, many of whom will be the first in their families to attend college.
Rising ninth-grader Ronnie Posey heard about the program through a friend and jumped to get involved so she could “get ahold of my future.”
“It shows kids that don’t have the opportunities in front of them,” she said, “that there are opportunities to get somewhere.”
Perry said the summer program went “exceptionally well.”
“I do have some experience working with summer groups, but it was my first time designing curriculum for such a group,” he said. “Many of the counselors and myself were sad to see the camp end.”
The program was marketed by word of mouth and by mail, causing some students to think twice about participating.
“At first, I was hesitant to come. I thought it would be really mundane and just like going to school all over again,” said rising junior Ashley Hodges. “But I got to collaborate with students from different schools and see the goals and aspirations unique to them and compare them to mine.”
Rising junior Alexander Washington said he decided to participate in the program after realizing “all the amazing opportunities” it could hold for his future.
Hodges said that in addition to friendships, the summer program taught her to not only be a leader, but to be perceived as one.
“You can always say, ‘Oh, I’m a leader,’” she said, “but it really matters when other people say, ‘Oh Ashley, you’re a leader to me.’”