HOLA program offers youngsters a 'Bridge' to middle school

Gathered around a rectangular table one recent morning, 11-year-olds Anahi Bailon, Jasmine Martinez and Rolland Pascual and 10-year-old Roselin Villa groan in unison over the same topic: moving up into middle school.

"It's a new change. In elementary, your parents sign you in, they go to the meetings for you," Jasmine said. "But now that you're in middle school, you have to sign yourself in and be responsible for the meetings. It's learning to be responsible."


Helping kids make that transition is one goal of Heart of Los Angeles. Founded in 1989, HOLA offers free after-school programming for more than 2,400 youths 6 and older in facilities around Lafayette Park in the Westlake district of Central L.A. The organization's programs include Bridges, which offers individual and group tutoring for more than 50 students transitioning from elementary to middle school.

To ensure a seamless move into sixth grade, the summer Bridges program exposes students to the kinds of lesson plans and challenging material that they can expect in the school year. During an introductory week, students take tests for directors to review.

"During this week we get a chance to really see who is going to need the extra support for the school year and who we need to review throughout the summer," Bridges Middle School Director Silvia Velazquez said. At the end of the week, she said, students are proud of themselves. "They see their scores and how much they have improved."

Despite the stress that the tests might induce, students acknowledge the benefits — and enjoyment — that come with them.

"Mostly everyone thinks the summer is about being lazy, but when you come here it's not what you think it is," Jasmine said. "You learn but in a fun way. They make it exciting."

The range of enrichment activities includes visual and performing arts, ceramics, sewing and screen printing as well as track and field, guitar and culinary classes — all offered on the four-building campus that includes an art gallery, orchestra room and soccer field.

These classes are meant to empower students to realize their potential in middle school and beyond. For some, it triggers visions of possible career paths and personal pursuits.

"You know what you want to do when you grow up," Anahi said. "When I grow up, I want to be a marine biologist, a pet rescuer, and I want to be a runner."

The Summer Camp Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund. The campaign raises contributions to support programs that provide thousands of Southern California's at-risk children ages 7 to 17 with enriching, educational and fun camp experiences. Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission. Donate online at or by phone at (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.