By Brian Bobal
Mason Times staff writer
This summer, a new academic program will start under the umbrella of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support called the Bridge Program. The program will help ease the transition for some students as they leave middle school and move up to high school.
Mason Public School Superintendent Mark Dillingham brought up the concept for the program.
“An outcome that I really wanted from the Bridge Program is for identified students to have a familiar face that they know, and can relate to at both the middle school and high school, while still being in 8th grade,” said Dillingham. “Also, I wanted these students to become familiar with the expectations of their new high school learning environment, and what better way than to spend a few weeks at the high school getting the lay of the land before school starts for their freshman year.”
Dillingham said the program would last three weeks and Matthew Stuard designed the plan.
“The eighth to ninth-grade transition is such a difficult transition for kids,” said Stuard, the district administrator for academic support. “So anything you can do to support kids during that transition between middle school and high school is very important so we decided to pilot this, this year and see how it goes.”
Stuard also explained why the transition is tough for these students.
“There are a whole lot of factors that go into it. The rigors of the classes have increased quite a bit. When they come from middle school to high school, it’s often a shock to them a little bit about how much is expected of them,” he said. “Emotionally they are still changing a little bit at that age.”
Students are chosen for the program based on a few things including test scores, demographics, teacher recommendation and counselor recommendation. To help the students, high school teachers were hired to give them a friendly face and help the students get over any anxiety they may have.
“(The interventionists) are amazing, truly amazing. The things that they have been asked to do with these students are very difficult and they have done an amazing job,” said Stuard. “We provided the leadership and the vision and (the interventionists) have ran with this. They’ve gone the extra mile throughout this school year and I am very proud of them.”
One of the interventionists is Dean Thompson, a math teacher at Mason High School, and he talked about some of the things the students are scared of.
“We’ve been touching base with some of our eighth-graders that are potential candidates for the summer Bridge Program,” he said. “Some of their biggest apprehensions are just getting lost and getting to class on time, some of the very basics of being in a new building.”
Thompson also explained the importance of getting these students to start off well in their freshman year.
“How they do that first trimester in their freshman year is often a clear indicator of how they are going to continue through the rest of their freshman year, sophomore year, junior year and senior year,” Thompson explained. “What we are hoping is that the transition to that fall trimester sets the foundation for success throughout the rest of their high school years.”
Getting the students accustomed to the layout of high school and some of the teachers there isn’t the only thing Thompson wants the program to offer.
“We are hoping to continue to reinforce a lot of the good academic habits that teachers in middle school have tried to engrave in these students,” he said. “It is crucial as we think about the summer Bridge Program that we establish good academic habits.”
If the program has a positive result and the students succeed, Thompson says it means a lot to him.
“I think that’s one of the highs of teaching, when students have success and you get to see them from start to finish,” he said. “Anytime a teacher experiences that, I think that’s one of the reasons why we teach is to help that process.”
Another teacher that will be working with the students is Jeremy Mills, a high school English teacher, who spoke about when the program will start and for how long it will last.
“The Summer Bridge Program will run the two weeks following the school year, then will resume one week prior to the 2014-2015 school year,” he said.
The tentative dates for this are June 12-27 and Aug. 18-22.
“Mr. Thompson and I will be familiarizing the incoming freshman students with the layout of the building and surrounding grounds, introducing them to teachers and staff, and conducting running a series of team building activities,” Mills said. “From an educational standpoint, we will be introducing and review math and English skills that are essential to the ninth grade curriculum.”
Mills also said the students will participate in an online class.
“If students fulfill the requirements of the program, they will earn a half credit toward graduation,” he said.
Thompson offered a bit of advice to middle school students about to make the transition: “Yes they are going from the oldest in the building to the youngest in a new building, but it can be a positive thing. It’s nothing to be feared.”