Building the bridge to college changes the lives of hundreds

A teacher, a friend and a mentor to high school students in the automotive shop at Van Nuys High School, Joe Agurso has also become an asset to Pierce College.

Teaming up with Pierce’s Bridge to Success, Agruso has helped more than 200 of his former students filter into college and has changed their lives forever.

The program provided round trip bus tokens from the high school to Pierce, a meal ticket and one year free at Pierce for tuition and books.

“If there is any satisfaction, it’s seeing those guys [my students] at Pierce College,” Agruso said. “They are becoming successful adults.”

Within the Bridge to Success program, the students were able to choose from several courses in which they could earn an Associate in Arts degree.

Director of Bridge to Success, Michael Flowers, thought that Agruso’s idea to integrate his high school students with the Bridge to Success program was a perfect fit.

“Our goals are the same as his,” Flowers said. “We need to give high school students a head start and get them college experience.”

According to the Bridge to Success mission statement online, “We understand that everyone has a unique set of needs and strengths, and that there is no “one size fits all” in education. Through the Bridge to Success Program, we will work with you one-on-one to help you learn the reading, writing, math, study, and job skills you need to meet your college and career goals.”

The course options ranged from child development to computer applications and office technologies to computer science and information technician.

Due to the recent budget cuts Nov. 5 was the last day the Career Advancement Academy ad Job Readiness Training program was operating.

Despite the budget crisis, Agruso has seen four of his students go on to the PACE program, Program for Accelerated College Education, allowing students to earn an A.A. degree and meet transfer requirements within two years.

“He [Agruso] is a one-of-a-kind guy,” Flowers said. “He is a great person to work with and we need more teachers like him in the Los Angeles Unified School District to make a difference.”

Although Agruso sees the benefit of using the Bridge to Success programs, he wishes he could do more to get more teachers involved.

“I get so excited,” Agruso said. “These kids just want to better themselves.”

 

Agruso doesn’t need help in finding students to sign-up for the program. He begins the academic year by passing out a sheet of paper entitled “Who want to go to college?” and allows all of his students a chance.

“Most of the students here [at Van Nuys High School] are at-risk students,” Agruso said. “Great things have transpired since we began this program in 2007.”

From the list, the students are assessed and placed into a math or English course. Those who don’t fall into a high enough course level must wait for the following semester or academic year.

“There is a lot of trial and error,” Agruso said. “I take the courses the kids take so I can understand their dilemmas and be a better help to them. I also can integrate the English and math they are learning into my class.”

According to Agruso, it’s this program and the extra work he takes on that makes being a teacher worthwhile.

“These kids saw a chance to excel in education where it wouldn’t have been possible,” he said.

Olympia Le Point, adjunct instructor of mathematics, has been one of the main professors for Agruso’s students.

“She inspires them and gets them going,” Agruso said. “The kids get a lot out of her class.”

 

Similarily, the English professor that Agruso has worked with and taken classes from, Michael Schilf, adjunct professor of English, has been another key ingredient in the student’s success.

It is through Agruso’s own mistrials and obstacles that have created this spark inside him to shed the light on and for his students.

“The best teacher in life has been myself,” Agruso said. “I’ve made plenty of bad mistakes but I’ve learned a lot. It’s time to pay it forward to my students.”

One teacher has changed the lives of hundred of students and Pierce made it possible.

“He takes it personally when his students are denied an education,” Flowers said. “He is all about 100 percent. He treats his students as if they were his own.”

 

Agruso has committed to continue helping his students, whether it is transportation or tutoring help.

“It’s phenomenal what Pierce College has done,” Agruso said. “Reaching out to young kids and showing them the importance of education. I just want to see the kids to see and have a free future.”

Bridge to Success Director Michael Flowers reflects on the change he has brought to Pierce College along with Joe Agruso, an automotive shop teacher at Van Nuys High School. (Joe Kukuczka/ Roundup)