Long Beach BLAST’s Bridge to Success program, that assists with credit-recovery for at-promise youth and life skills, returned to in-person services this past fall. Photo courtesy of Long Beach BLAST.

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Long Beach Better Learning for All Students Today, otherwise known as Long Beach BLAST, tackles the difficulties many young students undergo when meeting academic standards.

According to Executive Director Brandon Adachi, students involved in the programs can be facing myriad challenges. Many are experiencing the consequences of poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, depression, or gangs, among other life difficulties, he said.

But Long Beach BLAST doesn’t view their students as “at-risk;” instead, they are “at-promise,” encouraged to pursue a brighter future and succeed academically and personally.

Long Beach BLAST students participate in one of two programs: The academic mentoring program, a cornerstone of the organization since its founding over 20 years ago, or its Bridge to Success program, introduced in 2011 as a response to community needs.

The academic mentoring program engages elementary, middle, and high school students from throughout the district. Students are paired with a college student, receiving guidance and mentorship, not only with navigating their academic goals, but personal growth as well.

“Especially over the past year and a half, students have had to be resilient, and had to go through so much, so mentoring allows just that additional positive role model . . . (and) that support as they navigate through their academic and life journey,” said Adachi.

While the nonprofit supports students with the college process through assisting with applications and financial aid, college isn’t the end goal for every student, and Long Beach BLAST addresses that.

Students can also receive guidance from the organization in their pursuit of a trade, a job, or the military— “If college isn’t your reality just yet, there are ways we continue to support you,” said Adachi.

Mentors typically connect to BLAST through partnerships with Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College, while students generally are introduced to the program following a referral from their school.

Adachi hopes that students not only gain inspiration through their mentorships but a sense of empowerment as well.

“It’s really empowering to just become incredible agents of change and impact on their own,” said Adachi. “Whether that’s in their communities, families or with their circles, just to really provide that positive outline and outlook on life.”

Bridge to Success, on the other hand, is focused more on life skills and assistance with credit recovery for credit-deficient high school students.

Similarly to the academic mentoring program, Bridge to Success aims to be comprehensive, and students not only tackle topics such as college applications and financial aid, but the program involves eight different modules, varying from financial literacy to cultural awareness and diversity.

Many lessons involve topics that Adachi and his team wished they had in high school, and Adachi sees those conversations that go beyond academics to be integral to the growth of BLAST students, and are unique to the organization.

So far, Bridge to Success is only offered at two continuation or alternative high schools, Reid and Poly PAAL, although the program recently broadened to seven middle schools, and Adachi hopes to continue expanding the program further.

However, recruitment has been stunted since the pandemic, making expansion increasingly difficult, with BLAST experiencing limited capacity in regards to being able to serve students typically served, said Adachi.

Virtual learning and the pandemic of course created new difficulties for students and the education system as a whole, with blank screens and low attendance becoming more of the norm, said Adachi.

While school being back in-person this past fall has led to an increase in engagement particularly for the Bridge to Success program, there were still adjustments that had to be made, Adachi said.

“It’s just students still adjusting to being back in-person, having to wear masks the whole time, and just in general … this is not the typical school year even though we’re back in-person,” he said. “So our goal is to provide a sense of normalcy to that.”

In its over 20-year history, BLAST has served around 18,000 at-promise youth, engaging around 11,000 college mentors as well.

“We hope to be able to provide that to more and more youth throughout the community,” said Adachi, although maintaining intentionality and quality of service is the organization’s top priority.

“You could say, ‘oh, hey, we’ve served thousands of students,’ but if that’s just a basic touch point, serving them just through one activity, then that’s not that’s not what we’re focused on,” he said.

In the meantime, the organization will continue to foster its relationship with the school district and local colleges, while improving its curriculum to better meet the needs of Long Beach students, said Adachi.

Contribute to Long Beach BLAST’s programs here.

For volunteer opportunities, please contact [email protected], or [email protected] to donate items or services.