TRENTON – High school seniors who want to take a bridge year have until Tuesday to let their schools know they’d like another year of classes in their high school or community college – and the chance to make up for time and experiences missed during the all-virtual early days of the pandemic.

A state law enacted early in the pandemic gives high school seniors due to graduate in 2021 or 2022 a chance to extend their stay and take part in extracurricular activities, including spring sports, that were canceled when the pandemic began.

“The purpose of the bridge year program is to provide an opportunity for students to defer graduation from high school for one year to enable them to engage in opportunities that may have been interrupted during the spring of 2020,” acting Assistant Education Commissioner Gilbert Gonzalez said at last week’s State Board of Education meeting.

All schools are required to offer the option. Seniors have until Feb. 15 to inform the program’s liaison at their high school if they want to participate.

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“A bridge year student may participate in a spring sport during their bridge year,” said Maryanne Capella, director of the state Department of Education’s Office of Career Readiness. “They may also participate in extracurricular activities such as clubs and in orchestra and service organizations in the fall, winter or spring.”

In the current school year, 117 students who were due to graduate in June 2021 enrolled for a bridge year.

Gloucester County has the most bridge-year students, 16, followed by Bergen County with 14 and Morris County with 13. Four counties had no students enroll: Essex, Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren.

There are also 22 bridge-year students at private schools for students with disabilities.

Students take classes at their high school or county college in the fall and at their county college in the spring, and their individualized coursework can include independent study and online learning. On top of sports and extracurricular activities, they can take a bridge year to access counseling services, academic support and transition services.

Students can’t transfer to a new high school and, unless they are receiving missed special education services, are ineligible if they would turn 20 years old during their bridge year.

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