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Monday, Sep 29, 2014

Community Service improves student outcomes

As the first full school year kicks off at The Bridge in Hudson, Berkshire is bringing its proven curriculum, including its hallmark emphasis on community service, to day students from the Catskill Central and Hudson City school districts. The new school, which opened last February, serves teens who are at risk of dropping out of high school in two programs under one roof: a Day Services Special Education program for students in grades 6 through 12 and an Alternative Transition Program (ATP) for at-risk students, ages 16+.

For these students, a social and behavioral curriculum is as important as their academic work. Through a monthly “House Challenge,” teams of Bridge students are competing to earn points based on their community service, behavior, class attendance, adherence to a new strict cell phone policy, and participation in athletics. To make the metaphor of house building vivid, the points take the form of paper “bricks” displayed on a special wall in the school’s main hallway. Teams are proud of their bricks and have an added incentive: at the end of each month, the bricks become raffle tickets for gift card prizes.

imageSchool Psychologist Karen Souza (second from left) with team leaders (L-R) Damian H., Katie R., Jeff B., and Jasmine W.

Community service receives special emphasis at the Bridge as School Psychologist Karen Souza explains. “We use research-based methods to increase student outcomes through volunteer work. Grades and behaviors improve, and the students receive well-deserved recognition for positive things they do in their community. The House Challenge brings kids out of their comfort zones in important, healthy ways,” Souza says.

imageLast school year, House Challenge teams, in conjunction with the Mental Health Association and Americorps, participated in a community cleanup. Souza said the event not only helped the students see mental health in a different light, but brought value to keeping their community clean.

School staff and students also attended a Memorial Day flag ceremony in May at the State of New York Firemen’s Home in Hudson.image Firemen taught the students how to present the flag properly and accompanied the students to the cemetery located on the home’s grounds, where the students put a flag next to each grave.

“They took this job very seriously, and were rewarded with a barbecue by the firefighters afterwards,” said Dan Kalbfliesh, Day Program Coordinator at the school. “They enjoyed socializing with the firemen, and the event not only served as great community outreach but as a wonderful educational opportunity.”

In June the students planned and ran their “Cupcakes for a Cause” bake sale. The students had gone to school staff, saying they wanted to raise money for kids with cancer. The students raised $200, which went to CancerCare, a nonprofit organization that provides free services to children and families affected by cancer.

Inspired by last year’s strong start, Souza and the faculty of the Bridge look forward to many walls of bricks – and rewards – for the House Challenge teams of 2014-15.

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