Monday, August 4, 2008

Rio’s Puente Program bridges gap for online learning

Mountain Pointe High School senior Gilberto Ortega spends hours each week online.
After a full day of class at Mountain Pointe he’s on the computer. Even during the carefree days of summer, Gilberto is often in front of his computer.

Gilberto is no Internet junkie. He’s in a unique new program in which high school students take online college classes. By the time he graduates next May, he expects to have completed five online classes from Rio Salado College.
The program called Rio’s Puente (Bridge) Program is aimed at ensuring Latinos become comfortable with online classes with the idea they will continue taking college classes online once they graduate from high school.

“We want to increase the number of Latino students who take online college courses,” Dr. Larry Celaya, director of Latino Student Outreach, said. “This is the wave of the future and we want to make sure they have every opportunity to succeed, he said. Celaya emphasized the importance of early action to correct the digital divide, which is important for the entire country. .
“This is the right thing to do,” said Celaya.

The new program began last January with students from three Valley high schools including Mountain Pointe, Marcos De Niza and Gilbert High.
Based on recommendations from high school counselors students were selected into the program. Scholarships for tuition are available for all students enrolled.
Before the Puente Program, Gilberto had never enrolled in an online class. Pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of attending class online, Gilberto says he plans to continue with his online studies.

“It seems complicated at first but it’s pretty simple to use. I have no problems,” said Gilberto.
The online English 101 class Gilberto is currently taking this summer has already freed up his schedule so this fall he will be able to fit creative writing into his senior year, an interest he has longed to indulge.

Ashley Bolivar, a senior at Marcos De Niza High School is also enrolled in the program.
“It’s a good way to get some college credit while I am in high school,” Ashley said. “I’m not sure I’ll have the money to pay classes when I am in college,” she said.
Her friends are impressed with her diligence.

“My friends say they wouldn’t be able to handle the extra work,” Ashley said.
Students in the Puente Program start in their junior year of high school. Students attend a one credit hybrid (part-online, part in-person) orientation class. The class teaches students college skills including time management, goal setting, and writing and introduces them to Riolearn, Rio Salado’s course delivery and support system for online learning.
Once students have completed the orientation they sit down with a one-on-one academic advising session and plot their college course work.

High school students benefit from enrolling in college classes. Not only do the classes introduce student to options they have for a college or a university but they are also motivational.
“These classes heighten students’ awareness of their own capability to compete as mainstream college students,” Celaya said. “It’s all about self confidence and self-efficacy.”
Students are mentored throughout the program to ensure success. Ashley admits she never would have considered taking online classes without the Puente program. A zoology or marine biology major hopeful, Ashley is glad she’s in the program.

“It really appealed to me,” she said. I am actually learning a lot.”
The program is available at Mountain Pointe, Marcos De Niza and Gilbert High. Interested students should contact their school counselor.

Rio Salado College is one of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges. The college offers general education requirements like English, math, science, and career and technical certificates and degrees in business, computer technology, early childhood and teacher education, healthcare, law enforcement and more. For registration or more information call 480-517-8540 or go to

E. J. Anderson
Media Relations Manager
Rio Salado College
2323 West 14th Street
Tempe, AZ 85281