By Nico Galvin
Every Wednesday, MIHS students head to BRIDGES for 55 minutes of cross-grade student advisory. Though some BRIDGES groups have found success, the program is infamous for its many alleged faults. With so much hostility towards BRIDGES, what is our school doing to improve the program?
“Officially, the role [of BRIDGES] is to build community in diverse groups of students,” BRIDGES Co-Coordinator Kati McConn said. “We mean between grades, but we could be more intentional with that.”
McConn believes that most BRIDGES groups are successful at reaching this goal.
“But we’re not delusional,” she added. “We know that some [BRIDGES groups] are just advisory every day; some, nobody shows up to.”
MIHS instituted the BRIDGES program because they view these connections as important for the entire school.
“Schools are valuing the opportunity to have this time for students and teachers to be in a different type of class where you can put in some social [and] emotional learning,” Administrative Lead of BRIDGES Henterson Carlisle said.
“You’re building relationships in every period, one through seven,” Carlisle said. “BRIDGES is another opportunity to build those relationships.”
“I think that a lot of positives can come out of BRIDGES,” math teacher Kate Yoder said. “Not only as a way of connecting students, but doing things that have to be done for the school.”
“[In my BRIDGES,] we laugh, we talk about how our days are going…” Yoder explained. “We do what we need to do, but it’s relaxed.”
For some, however, the BRIDGES experience is vastly different.
“I feel like it’s a big waste of time,” senior Julian Tomaselli said. “I know [BRIDGES] has a goal of bringing all the grades together; I feel like it doesn’t do a really good job of that. Mostly it’s freshmen talking to freshmen, seniors talking to seniors.”
Although MIHS is making an effort to improve the program, McConn explained the challenges.
“I think community buy-in is one of the biggest factors,” she said. “When you don’t have everyone in the group bought into it—you don’t have that critical mass—it’s not going to work.”
“There’s a lot of baggage,” added McConn. “If it failed in previous years, it’s not going to work.”
According to Carlisle, MIHS previously had a committee examine the program.
“About three years ago, before I took over BRIDGES, there was a BRIDGES review,” Carlisle said. “They had a review team that had parents, students [and] teachers on it and there was some recommendations and there’s been some structural changes.”
These changes include returning from teacher-led BRIDGES to student-led BRIDGES with the reinstitution of BRIDGES leaders, albeit with some tweaking.
“What’s a little bit different now is that the leaders are being trained,” Carlisle explained. “So whenever there’s an advisory, the leaders are all meeting to go over what the next several lessons are like.
“[We are] making sure we have a tighter calendar, which we do, as you can see we don’t have as many advisories as before, and trying to use that time for different types of learning opportunities,” Carlisle added.
Still, BRIDGES has a high absence rate. The fact that BRIDGES doesn’t have a grade associated with it further compounds the problem; many students skip BRIDGES because they know it won’t harm their grades.
Two years ago, harsher punishment was instated for unexcused BRIDGES absences, with a mandatory Saturday detention for three missed BRIDGES periods.
However, McConn revealed that a new direction is being taken to raise attendance.
“We want to incentivize people to go, not punish people for not going,” McConn explained. “The counseling department and the PTSA are actually working together to hold attendance raffles.”
Carlisle hopes the general changes to BRIDGES will help increase attendance.
“We’re hoping through just the structure of BRIDGES that the attendance is better,” he said. “We will be running reports to really check.”
“I’m happy the way [BRIDGES is] going,” Carlisle said. “It’s still got work to do, and we still need to ensure that every class is having a quality BRIDGES time. I hope that everyone will value it just like anyone values any class.”