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Bridge Academy

Bridge Academy logo 

The Bridge Academy is an innovative year-round learning community that provides training and education to refocused youth and young adults.

Our career-focused culture replicates the workplace to prepare trainees for the opportunities and challenges that await them in their careers.

Each participant begins as an entry-level trainee and works at his or her own pace to be promoted to lead, supervisor, manager, and finally, director trainee—all while working to complete a GED or high school diploma and earning industry recognized certifications.

Learn more about the Bridge Academy by watching this video.

View the video

Learning at the Bridge Academy is a unique experience meant to reignite trainees’ curiosity and put them on a path to a career.

Staff at the Bridge Academy create a respectful learning environment where trainees are challenged and supported to bring forth their best in all aspects of career preparation.

Opportunities at the Bridge Academyare earned and vary widely to address trainees’ particular needs and suit their individual interests.

Support services at the Bridge Academy address the barriers that may have prevented trainees from being successful in the past.

History project

Learning at the Bridge Academy

We all learn in different ways and face different challenges. That’s why each Bridge Academy trainee has an individualized learning plan and access to one-on-one and group tutoring in addition to small group workshops.

We believe learning should be relevant to the end goal: starting a meaningful career. Skills needed to earn a GED or high school diploma—and secure employment—are gained through project-based learning. Trainees use and acquire academic skills by tackling real-world problems similar to the way goals are achieved in the workplace.

The first project assigned to new trainees after enrollment requires them to answer the question Are there jobs in Southwest Michigan? Working in groups, each trainee is assigned an area of responsibility such as project manager, industry expert, or graphic designer. By looking at data and interviewing subject matter experts, trainees formulate an answer to the project question and present it to a panel of judges made up of local employers and other community members. Read the Herald-Palladium article about this exciting opportunity.

Recent Projects
  • When the Historical Society of Michigan needed to figure out how to reach more minority students, they turned to our Bridge Academy trainees to help bring history alive. The trainees spent six weeks creating presentations on everything from the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust to the Tuskegee Airmen and the Japanese-American internment during World War II. The presentations were videotaped so the society can use them as examples when explaining Michigan History Day to school leaders throughout the state. Read more about the project here.
  • A group of students investigated the science of genes to answer the question Who’s your daddy? They presented their research findings to a team of Lakeland Healthcare representatives.
  • Trainees in our math classes are helping YouthBuild participants learn and implement measurement skills into their construction workshop and worksites.
  • Jobs for Michigan's Graduates participants are working under the advisement of the Kinexus communications team to create, write and produce a :90-second commercial about the program.
  • The Reasoning through Language Arts/Social Studies class is partnering with local social workers to develop more effective ways for local migrant populations to study for their citizenship tests.

Bridge Academy staff 
Staff at the Bridge Academy

Bridge Academy instructors and other staff are full of energy and passion for helping young adults seize their second chance at education and a career. Get to know them below:

Maria Dahn

Maria Dahn
Vocational Skills Specialist

Charity Garcia

Charity Garcia
Curriculum and Instruction Manager

Ontaygo Johnson

Ontaygo Johnson
Vocational Specialist

Alicia Knapp

Alicia Knapp
Youth Instruction Specialist

Zachary Vaughn

Zachary Vaughn
Academic Services Coordinator

Diane Young

Diane Young
Support Services Coordinator

Mike Davis

Mike Davis
Adult Education Manager

Dyann Chenault

Dyann Chenault
Adult Education Specialist

Barbara Moore

Barbara Moore
Adult Education Specialist

Immanuel Williams

Immanuel Williams
Adult and Youth Instruction Specialist


YouthBuild table

Opportunities at the Bridge Academy

As trainees demonstrate their dedication to attaining education and securing employment, they open doors for themselves to all the opportunities the Bridge Academy has to offer. Each trainee starts off at the entry-level or level one, and progresses up the ladder to lead, supervisor, manager, and finally at level five, director. Once all levels are completed, trainees are ready to secure and sustain employment. See the promotion requirements for each level here.

Career Online High School

When trainees first enroll in the Bridge Academy, they work with an advisor to craft an individualized learning plan. As part of this planning process the advisor and trainee determine whether he or she will complete a GED or high school diploma. If a high school diploma makes sense, the trainee will enroll in Career Online High School. Trainees who opt for this path work in the computer lab at the Bridge Academy or at home to earn a high school diploma and an industry recognized credential in office assisting, hospitality, retail, or childcare.


Participants in YouthBuild earn GEDs and gain paid training experience in construction, and, in some cases, healthcare. As trainees build their knowledge in the classroom, they improve the community on their worksites.

Service-learning activities

Trainees start volunteering their time to community service projects almost immediately upon enrollment at the Bridge Academy. Starting at the entry-level, trainees gain work skills, confidence, and satisfaction by helping others and improving the community.

Junior Achievement Financial Empowerment

Using Junior Achievement curricula, local business leaders provide students with the knowledge they need to take control of their financial lives. Trainees are eligible for Junior Achievement when they attain lead-level.

Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates

Jobs for Michigan's Graduates is a fun and interactive class in which trainees at the lead level define their life goals and create a path toward achieving them. As part of the Jobs for Michigan's Graduates experience, trainees meet local employers, visit businesses, and work on projects to explore their unique talents and career interests. They learn how to succeed in today’s work environment through hands-on projects and activities.

Employer Networking

Beginning at the lead level, trainees are given a wide variety of opportunities to network with area employers. This might happen through tours of businesses, interactive employer workshops, or community service experiences.

Paid Work Experience

When trainees attain the status of supervisor, they have an opportunity to gain paid work experience at a local business or in a Kinexus social enterprise such as Beach Bites by the Bridge Academy. Having successfully been promoted through the first four Bridge Academy levels, trainees are able to apply what they’ve learned about the career field of their choice while demonstrating that they can meet employer expectations.

Links to Post Secondary Education

When a trainee reaches the manager level, it’s time to think seriously about what kind of post-secondary education is needed to fulfill his or her career goals. Bridge Academy advisors help trainees identify the right schools, secure funding, and prepare for what to expect in a challenging new academic environment.

Support services
Support services at the Bridge Academy

The Bridge Academy takes a holistic approach to training by removing barriers to education and employment that have made trainees unsuccessful in the past. Upon entering the Bridge Academy, trainees participate in a barrier inventory assessment to determine the most prominent barriers and assign low, medium and high rankings. A staff member is devoted to providing wrap-around services at no cost to trainees. Bridge Academy staff work with many partner agencies in order to remove trainee barriers.

The Bridge Academy staff works with trainees to address the following barriers:
  • Transportation – driver's permit and licensing
  • Basic documentation – Michigan ID, birth certificate, work-required documentation
  • Childcare
  • Housing
  • Medical
  • Dental
  • Vision
  • Legal aid and court-required appointments
  • Mental health
  • Substance abuse
  • Basic needs – food and clothing

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