Bridges: Different from what you might think
School was founded 18 years ago
By Adele Craft
Sopris Sun Intern
Bridges High School was founded 18 years ago by Michael Blaire. He went door to door looking for students who hadn’t completed high school and convinced them to come back and try it again. At first, the school was housed at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood. Blaire was the principal for seven years. The current principal, Lyn Bair, continues to promote some of Blaire’s values and methods, which include helping Bridges students take ownership of their own learning.
Bair’s record shows that she and her staff save 25 percent of enrollment space for students who are at the highest risk — those who have dropped out or did not graduate from other local schools. Bair says she continues, “To take that model that Mike used, to go during the summer, to get on the phone, to go to people’s houses and try to encourage them to come back to school.”
Maggie Riley, an English and history teacher at Bridges, believes that, “We have great successes with kids who have not had success anywhere else. I invite people to look at our philosophy and talk to our students. We are, in my opinion, doing great things to help prepare young people to live happy and fulfilling lives!”
In Colorado, public high schools can enroll students until their 21st birthday. Bair gives opportunities to every student, not just those who fit into the traditional high school system. While the school is a public institution, its unique size (under 100 kids) allows Roaring Fork School District students to collaborate with the faculty and find individualized paths to success.
There are nine teachers and a 10-1 student-teacher ratio. Bair believes the faculty cares about students differently than at other schools and that they work very hard to restore trust in students and to get them excited about learning. John Cordasco — Bridges’ instructor for history, government, economics and geography — agrees. “It’s different from other schools because the teachers are given the latitude to give each student the time it takes to do what they need to do in their own time. It’s not always available in a regular school, [where] everyone kind of keeps up and does the same thing.”
Bair recognizes that, at certain times in its past, Bridges has had a public relations problem. “I think that a lot of people have a preconceived idea or they’re taking the ideas of what Bridges was 10 or 12 or 18 years ago, when we’ve had a reputation of ‘that’s where all the bad kids go and you’ll never go to college.’ I think that’s changing.” Sophomore Sam Hankinson heard many of these misconceptions when she was considering attending Bridges. People told her, “It’s like a prison; there are no windows; it doesn’t count as a real high school; everyone’s a stoner; it’s the school for dropouts and it is not challenging.” Hankinson’s experiences at Bridges have disproven these notions. “It was a better academic environment because I could take classes at my correct level rather than being dragged behind and given more work instead to keep me busy,” she said. Interviews with students and teachers at Bridges show that each of these preconceived notions is misguided. “Yes, you can go to college; yes, we’re accredited through the state; yes, we have kids that get in trouble, but we have the same amount of students that get in trouble that any other high school has to deal with. That is not what we are,” said Bair.
Bridges not only meets the needs of at-risk students, it also supports academically advanced students. Bridges offers every class that is required for a high school diploma. Additionally, students can take classes at the district’s other high schools. Where some local high schools have implemented an Advanced Placement course system to challenge students, Bair felt that it was important to partner with Colorado Mountain College to offer an even wider variety of advanced classes. Students can also take college classes on the Bridges campus through Colorado Mesa University and CU Succeed. Bridges pays for two college-level classes per student each semester. If the student shows college readiness, he or she may start these college classes as soon as his or her freshman year.
Because Bridges serves a student body with diverse needs, “This makes for a very compassionate place where the judgment isn’t as quick,” Hankinson said. “Bridges is also the most flexible school system I have ever seen. Bridges allows students to learn wherever they see fit on their terms.” Riley confirms this: “I have been a teacher for 18 years and I have never had such personal and caring relationships as I do with the students at Bridges. Bridges students are amazing. They are friendly, caring, personable, excited to learn, open and honest.”
See for yourself
Bair is eager to open her school to the community. “If you haven’t seen Bridges in our new location (next to the Carbondale Branch Library),” she said, “I would encourage people to come walk the halls here and take a tour with one of the students. If somebody thinks that it’s all the kids who get in trouble, I would want to reach out and invite them to come and go to classes and hear the kinds of discussions and see the types of kids that are here because I think that would change what people in the community think.”
Adele Craft is a sophomore at Bridges High School.