The Bridge marks opening amid positive signs

HUDSON–Teachers showed enthusiasm and politicians addressed an assembly at the February 12 open house for the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy, known as the Bridge.

The Bridge opened February 3, providing both an alternate Transition Program (ATP) for Hudson and Catskill high school students and a day program for some special education students previously taught at the Berkshire Union Free School District (BUFSD). The new school is in the historic brick structure at the corner of Warren and North 5th Streets previously owned by the Register Star newspaper.

ATP students are 16- and 17-year-olds at least four credits behind where diploma-bound students should be. The Bridge’s day program students were, until now, bussed from Hudson to Berkshire Union’s campus in Canaan. Overall, the Bridge serves about 44 students, according to Dan Kalbfliesh, day program coordinator. There about 20 from Hudson and 10 from Catskill in the ATP, and 14 in the day program. They come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, Mr. Kalbfliesh said.

The Bridge Academy’s principal, Thomas Gavin, previously was principal of Hudson High School. The program’s other staff comes from Berkshire Union. The teachers are certified in both their core subject matter and special education and have been training for their Bridge roles for months.

Some staff depict the Bridge as able to transform ATP students. “Some of them come from situations where they have not been to school” for a while “because of multiple suspensions,” said Mr. Kalbfliesh.

English teacher Michael Mr. Spruck said he started the first week of classes at the Bridge with “getting-to-know-you games,” but soon “the kids got sick of the games and wanted to go into academics.”

“I think all of [the ATP] students made a conscious choice to come here,” said science teacher Teresa Prisco. “They want to learn more.”

“Everybody is capable of success, [but]…some haven’t been provided with the proper tools”–educational, social, and emotional, said school psychologist Karen Souza. “Some kids have not been successful in bigger schools.” But because of the Bridge’s system, she said, “I think a lot of our kids will be successful.”

Ms. Prisco and Mr. Spruck believe that for most purposes the students form four groups: ATP 10th and-11th grade, ATP 9th and10th grade, day high school and day middle school. A teacher’s typical day consists of five classes: one for each group in that teacher’s core subject and one for an ancillary subject. Within each group, students receive individualized goals and strategies.

Mr. Spruck is currently teaching a unit on science fiction. He has students research specific science fiction writers and read science fiction literature from contemporary to classical, with authors ranging from Steven King to Kurt Vonnegut and Franz Kafka.

Meanwhile, Mr. Spruck’s middle school class is reading “Among the Hidden,” by Margaret P. Haddix.

Ms. Prisco teaches earth science, living environment, environmental science, and 7th and 8th-grade science. She also teaches auxiliary classes in physical education and health. Instead of textbooks, she uses “teacher generated material” and gears lessons toward the students’ strengths. “They’re always asking questions,” she said.

In addition, Ms. Prisco recounted that when she broached the subject of an environmental club, students responded enthusiastically and took over the process of forming the club.

Catskill High School students in the Media Program and their teacher, Cheryl Rabinowitz, attended the open house to record it.

The building now being used for the Bridge academy has a lease that runs only until the end of the next school year and there has been some speculation that that the school might relocate to the Coarc building on the first block of Warren Street. That site was recently sold to the non-profit Galvan Initiatives Foundation.

Asked about a moving, Mr. Spruck said, “We hope to expand,” adding that while the current location might not be big enough accommodate growth he hopes any new site for the school would be at “a similar location.”

Hudson and Catskill each used to have its own Alternate Learning Program (ALP) for high school students who needed an alternate route to graduation, but the districts ended those programs as the result of budget cuts. The Columbia-Greene Partnership has given them a chance to run a similar program less expensively by combining resources.

The open house, which had refreshments catered by students from Berkshire High School’s Culinary Arts Program and their instructor Jon Newcomer, included an assembly. Among the speakers were Dr. James Baldwin, district superintendent for Questar III BOCES, which includes Columbia, Greene, and Rensselaer counties, who said that serving children with different needs in times of constrained budgets requires innovation. He called it “amazing” that the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy had moved the project from proposal to operation in a single state legislative session. “It’s a great day,” said Dr. Baldwin.

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-107th) recalled rushing to Albany the last day of the legislative session to vote for the bill that facilitated the Bridge’s establishment. “That was, for me, the most satisfying bill of the session,” he said.

State Senator Kathleen Marchione (R-43rd) said that the program had made “terrible sacrifices” to adjust to budget cuts and yet remained “devoted to educating” your youth. She was proud to have passed a law that helped provide “the right academic, social and emotional blend.”

Sen. Marchione emphasized that Hudson will save $60,000 annually by not transporting its day program students to Canaan.

Hudson Mayor William Hallenbeck called the opening “historic” and was sure Principal Gavin would be successful because, he said, “I have seen him successful before.”

Other speakers included State Assembly Members Didi Barrett (D-106th) and Peter Lopez (R-102nd).

Superintendents Dr. Kathleen P. Farrell of the Catskill Central School District, Maria Suttmeier of the Hudson City School District, and Bruce Potter of BUFSD received a large photograph of a bridge spanning a river with the caption “Be the Bridge.”

 

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