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Thursday, Feb 6, 2014

'The Bridge' opens its doors

New initiative helps teens succeed in school

An unprecedented partnership between three school districts -- Berkshire Union Free, Hudson City, and Catskill Central, has opened The Bridge Program, a joint effort designed to help teens succeed in school and to graduate “college and career ready.”

imageOn February 3, following December’s approval by the New York State Education Department (SED), the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy opened its Day Services Special Education and Alternative Transition Program (ATP), known as The Bridge, in Hudson. Teachers from Berkshire Union Free School District (BUFSD), dual certified in special education and academic subjects, are bringing their specialized expertise to teaching students from all three districts who are now enrolled in The Bridge.

“We selected these students because they lack the necessary credits to be on track to graduate on time and are at risk of dropping out of school,” said Bruce Potter, superintendent of Berkshire Union Free School District (BUFSD). "In addition to smaller classes, the faculty is taking an alternative approach to building academic and life skills. The students enrolled in The Bridge have been unsuccessful in the traditional High School model and now may benefit from the highly experienced faculty and the proven curriculum that Berkshire has pioneered."

“We are very pleased that The Bridge is underway,” said Timothy Giacchetta, president of the BUFSD Board of Education. “Statewide, only 45 percent of special education students with learning or emotional disabilities graduate from high school. Berkshire High School has a remarkable 100 percent graduation rate of students on our Canaan campus over the past several years. Our teachers certainly know how to help these students succeed.”

Giacchetta is also the CEO of Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth, a leading statewide child welfare agency. Berkshire Union Free School District is headquartered on the residential treatment campus in Canaan, New York.

“This is a great start for us all, and I appreciate the steadfast commitment by Hudson and Catskill to this important initiative,” Potter said. He also praised the SED for its strong commitment to helping the Academy begin teaching area students. “Everyone worked together on this,” he said. “This was a total collaboration.”

Potter praised the strong commitment of Hudson City Superintendent Maria Suttmeier and Catskill Central Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Farrell, as well as the support of Questar III BOCES. He thanked Dr. James Baldwin, the district superintendent of Questar III, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services for Rensselaer, Columbia, and parts of Greene counties.

“The importance of Questar III can’t be overstated,” Potter said. “BOCES helped us coordinate this initiative and ensured that we all understood all aspects and intricacies of state laws.”

Initially, The Bridge is serving 50 students. However, the superintendents from all three school districts aspire to serve even more students. The program provides dual certified teachers, small class sizes, personalized attention, credit recovery, online learning, and project-based learning targeted to individualized needs. It is expected to increase the number of credits students can accrue and significantly improve the graduation rate. Teachers and staff work with county social services departments to identify available community resources that can support families of enrolled students. The Bridge offers a hybrid Regents and Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) preparation program so students are prepared for each, as well as a workforce readiness curriculum with opportunities for students to gain entry-level employment by reinforcing crucial workforce skills.

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