In their crisp, white masks and royal blue Jesuit Summer Bridge T-shirts, the JSB students sat in their chairs, spread six feet apart across the basketball court inside the Jesuit High School gymnasium.
With their parents scattered in the bleachers behind them, each JSB student was recognized for completing the five-week program, and several also received special awards.
The commencement ceremony Friday (July 24) completed JSB's 10th year of making a major impact on dozens of local middle school boys in an instructive and nurturing environment.
JSB principal Audrey Merck handed out the diplomas, while JSB teachers Jonathan Barlaan ’07 (a Jesuit High School science teacher), Jake Pedrero '12 (a Plant High teacher), and Cameron Ruff '13 (a Trinity School for Children teacher), along with alumni counselor Robert Morrison ’19, presented the awards.
The top JSB student honor is the Men for Others Award. This year's winners were Jafet Rodriguez (sixth grade, (Channelside Academy of Math and Science), Rogan McLaughlin (seventh grade, Incarnation Catholic School), and Cesar Vazquez (eighth grade, Sligh Middle Magnet School).
Culminating graduation was an impactful presentation by keynote speaker Brian Greenfield. Greenfield, a Jesuit High School theology teacher and assistant principal, and nationally recognized Catholic retreat leader and motivational speaker, spoke to the students about how God's concerned with what you have on the inside, what's in your heart, and not what's on the surface.
This year, JSB registered three dozen boys from 21 schools, mostly Hillsborough County public schools, to experience the comprehensive summer program. Each morning begins with a reading period (this year the students read Million-Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica) before transitioning into focused academic instruction in three areas – math, critical thinking, and language arts (grammar/reading) – mixed with elective activities, including sports such as tennis-baseball and dodgeball, and guest speakers.
In addition to Merck (who is a Jesuit theology teacher), Barlaan, Pedrero, Ruff, and Morrison, Jesuit admissions director Steve Matesich '91 is the JSB coordinator, and Fr. Angel Rivera-Fals, S.J. is the chaplain.
Several Jesuit rising seniors served as JSB counselors: Andrew Garateix '21, Nick Garcia '21, Frankie Machado '21 (who won the Counselor of the Summer award), Edward Morrison '21, and Nick Vega '21 (who is a JSB alum).
“Being able to have a great program (during COVID-19), it just kind of gives us the confidence and the excitement to make it even better next year and the year after that,” Merck said.
Participating in JSB for five weeks was uplifting during these challenging times.
“I think that something all people have realized with the pandemic is how much we took for granted the very basic and fundamental things like being in a classroom,” Merck said. “(The JSB students’) genuine joy in just coming to school every day, doing their work, and sometimes asking for more work, I think it's just beautiful to watch.”
Jesuit Summer Bridge is offered at a steeply discounted cost to the participants due to the generosity of benefactors, notably Nancy and Mike Petters '77. The Petters' have demonstrated a leadership commitment to JSB and to providing unique opportunities for local youths to experience a Jesuit education. Other benefactors include the Tiger Lilies, the club comprised of mothers of Jesuit alumni, who every year host special events for the JSB students.
The JSB students are tested at the beginning and end of the program, demonstrating their improvement every summer. The most improved test scores were among those receiving awards at graduation.
Please view two photo slideshows below, the first is from Friday’s graduation ceremony, and the second is from the five weeks of JSB.