Most educators, and parents, know about the concept and practice of a gap year. Often that year is taken between high school and college but not necessarily then. It could be a junior or senior year abroad in either high school or college or it could be between the freshman and sophomore year of college. The point is to consider the benefits and rewards of such a year or some other extended period of time outside of the regularly scheduled, progressive march toward a diploma.
My first point is to try and change both the concept and the term from gap year to bridge year because the notion of a bridgemakes more sense and is far from a year off but rather a year on another path. That path crosses the gap with a planned structure of design, engineering and construction that takes you from one place to another. OK, enough said about that. You get the point.
Secondly, think about all those kids who have spent 13 or more years in school, fairly well tied to a curriculum that has all kinds of good intentions for expanding the student’s world of knowledge, understanding and skills requisite for a good education. You can address the question, “What are the marks of an educated person?”
Third, there are now numerous programs to assist students and their families who are interested in one of these experiences that might include an internship in a profession or business or the arts, travel and study abroad in a different country and culture, or a self-directed study in a field that the student is passionate about from technology to outer space to the inner spaces of human behavior. Suffice to say that a year like this may well provide the student with a new and deeper level of understanding about the possibilities for careers as well as a renewed vigor for continuing formal studies in a college or university setting. Colleges look favorably on such experiences. For a fine, solid example of such a resource have a look: http://www.uncollege.org
Finally, this kind of opportunity is also one that provides additional responsibilities and choices that can add a degree of maturity to the individual’s growth and development. Not only does it give the student time “off” from the regular grind of school, but it also allows time for some serious reflection about addressing the question of why they are doing what they’re doing. That alone would make this year of great value.
What I recommend is to engage in a conversation about the opportunity, the possibilities, the pros and cons and have a go at evaluating whether this might be a terrific opportunity for one of your students or children, knowing they are unlikely to be reading this post!
EPILOGUE: This Bridge Year is not only for students but can also be for older adults who could use a bridge year for an important transition. In the world of academia we instituted sabbatical years. In other professions and in business, people sometimes take a year to plan a significant change in careers. And in life itself, there can be an event that has a tremendous impact such as an illness, an accident, a divorce or a death. A bridge from that previous experience to the next stage of life may be exactly what is needed to effect a desired change.