Jayln Williams gazed across Jesuit’s Corral Memorial Stadium at the American flag as he led his fellow Jesuit Summer Bridge (JSB) students in the Pledge of Allegiance to start the day.
In years past, it might have been unusual for the students to meet outdoors in a campus courtyard each morning. But while COVID-19 has altered JSB activity in some superficial ways, for Williams, Cesar Vazquez, and Cooper Webb – rising 8th graders participating for their third and final year of JSB – the special experience provided by the program each summer remains unchanged.
“(I’ve returned each year) because of the memories you have with the people you meet,” Williams said. “There are all types of people that come with different personalities.”
This year, three dozen boys from 20 different schools – conscientious students mostly from Hillsborough County public schools with modest socioeconomic backgrounds – are participating. And while Williams, Vazquez, and Webb said making new friends has factored into their love for the program, they have especially enjoyed getting to know their teachers.
Jake Pedrero ’12 is in his third summer as the Language Arts instructor with JSB. All three students of the third-year students cited Mr. Pedrero’s unique ability to spark debate and discussion as the primary reason his class has been a favorite.
Webb, who is entering his final year at Greco Middle School, said another strong memory of Mr. Pedrero (who teaches at Plant High School), was from last summer, when he taught a very important lesson, especially for possible future Jesuit students: how to tie a tie.
“He made it into a race,” Webb said. “I won.”
Vazquez, who hails from Sligh Middle Magnet School, said while he loves Pedrero’s class, his favorite subject is Critical Thinking, which is taught for the second-straight year by Cameron Ruff ’13, a teacher at Trinity School for Children.
“It’s just nice to be challenged by something like a Jeopardy game or answering any sort of questions he gives you,” Vazquez said.
The students also mentioned the positive experiences outside the classroom. Field trips and special guest speakers (including this week’s presentation by former Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper, the Regional Communications Director for the American Cancer Society) have enriched Jesuit Summer Bridge. And over the years, Jesuit’s student counselors have introduced a number of games like Flickerball (a Jesuit P.E. tradition) and variations on Dodgeball.
Williams, who is entering his final year at Roland Park K-8 Magnet School, said his favorite game, Tennis-Baseball (where a tennis ball and racket replace a traditional ball and bat), turned out to be an ideal socially distanced activity for this year’s program.
“You don't have to be good at the game, you’ve just got to hit it and run,” he said. “Also, you can keep a certain distance away from people, and it gets to be competitive, which is fun at the same time.”
Now in their last week of the program, the three students said Jesuit Summer Bridge has been a tremendous influence on their lives. It has helped them hone their academics, foster personal growth and development toward becoming ‘Men for Others,’ and make friends.
“It's a really good experience to help you get ready for your next school year,” Webb said. “And it's also just fun. You meet great new people. I recommend it to everyone.”