TURLOCK -- Prisma Lisbeth Soria's high school friends didn't like that she wanted to take honors classes. They ignored her on campus for months and accused her of leaving them behind. So, the 17-year-old threw away her poetry collection and hunkered down in her basic classes to be accepted again.
As an incoming freshman at California State University, Stanislaus, Soria began writing new poems, starting with some original inspiration on her dorm room dry erase board:
"Our dream for a higher education brought us together and faith will reunite us again."
Soria is trying to make up what she missed in high school during the three-week CSU, Stanislaus, Summer Bridge Program, a chance for 42 incoming freshmen to get remedial help in math and English, experience dorm life and the ups and downs of cafeteria food, and learn their way around the 228-acre campus.
These students are among the 50 percent to 60 percent of incoming freshman who come to the Turlock campus unprepared for college level courses.
Summer Bridge students are handpicked because they face the toughest challenges: being first-generation college students, coming from low-income families, living in foster homes or having parents in jail.
"They're all expected to fail, to tell you the truth," said Jesus Verdugo, a Summer Bridge graduate who now runs the program.
In addition to providing tutors in math test preparation and writing, the program is piloting an English lecture course for Summer Bridge students this year that comes with college credit.
Ray Nikzat, 18, said he is learning that writing a college essay means lots of rewrites. He's also trying to speed up his two-finger pecking on the computer keyboard. Nikzat entered the foster care system as a 10-year-old and didn't have a computer at home.
The students keep a tight schedule, with activities and classes planned from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and a strict "lights out" at 10.
"It's kind of a packed day," said Monique Venegas, 17. "It's going to benefit us later on."
Lee Renner, senior director of retention, said the university is becoming more effective at making sure students graduate from remedial coursework.
About 92 percent of remedial students catch up within 12 months, a deadline set by California State University policy. After that time, an unsuccessful student is disqualified from the university.
"We're looking thoughtfully at taking these students who aren't quite ready in math and English and get them quickly ready to go," Renner said.
The university pays for the students' housing, food and class materials.
Verdugo said this year's Summer Bridge Program is smaller than in the past, when it served about 50, because of budget cuts and a smaller entering freshman class.
"We just can't offer as many things," he said.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.