New Afterschool Manager Gains Confidence through the Bridge Program

“I was so far removed from college that it was a really scary thought.”

When Wendy McLaughlin applied to the Community Learning Center’s Bridge Program, she had been working for the City of Cambridge’s Childcare Division for 17 years, gradually taking on more responsibility. But, she said, “I had hit a wall in my career.” A college degree was important to her advancement. Encouraged by her supervisor and Division Head, she decided to stop making excuses for putting off college. However, “I was so far removed from college that it was a really scary thought.” The Bridge Program was the perfect transition for her. It was a free program in Cambridge, where she lives and works, and it would prepare her for the college experience.

Wendy grew up in Cambridge. In her senior year, because of her family’s financial problems, she didn’t apply to college. Instead, she trained to be a nurse’s aide at Job Corps. Soon after, she switched to working in a Cambridge afterschool and decided that was the field for her.

“Everyone really impressed me with their determination to finish and their drive.”

Entering class on the first day of the Bridge Program last September, Wendy was nervous, not knowing what to expect. When the students introduced themselves, she found it fascinating that they were from so many different backgrounds but all shared the same goals. Both students and teachers were very welcoming and put her at ease. Over the course of the program, students formed a strong bond, shared their life stories, and supported each other.

“Everyone really impressed me with their determination to finish and their drive. We all have lives outside that are very demanding—some worked overnight, some have families, but we all made it a priority.” Wendy herself was raising a two-year old son while she attended the program. It was hard to lose two nights a week with her son, but, she said, “I knew that I was doing this for him….I showed him everybody should go to school.” The evenings in school were long, but it was never boring and never redundant; she always felt she was getting something out of class.

“Had I just gone straight to college and not done this, my confidence level was not enough to go on.”

Although she came into the Bridge Program with strong skills, Wendy needed reassurance and review after so many years out of school. “Had I just gone straight to college and not done this, my confidence level was not enough to go on.” In the course of the program, she gained the confidence she needed and learned what is expected in college, including a sense of the workload and academic language. She appreciated the personalized support from staff that went above and beyond a normal classroom experience.

“It’s an amazing opportunity and I would definitely recommend it to an adult who is thinking of going back to school.”

Wendy knows there are many people like her who didn’t go to college or started and then stopped because they were unprepared for the expectations, and she recommends that they try the Bridge Program. “It’s an amazing opportunity and I would definitely recommend it to an adult who is thinking of going back to school.”

As Wendy was completing the Bridge Program, she earned a promotion to Afterschool Manager for the City of Cambridge. She felt she had demonstrated her determination to continue to grow. She will go to Bunker Hill Community College part-time this fall, then transfer to a four-year school to earn a bachelor’s degree in management.