HS BRIDGES program to expand

By Mary L. Grady

After research, surveys and a year-long pilot program, administrators at Mercer Island High School have decided to expand the BRIDGES advisory program at the school. At the present time, sessions made up of about 20 students from across grade levels, two student leaders and a teacher, meet every other week or for special events, such as a community service day and a career day.

The new program will have student groups meeting twice each week; one session devoted to announcements that already take place each Monday and the other, a one-hour session to allow for topics such as the state-mandated HIV/AIDS training, and other-required curriculum. The sessions would continue to include discussions of topics of interest to students.

The high school held a session attended by 60 parents and students at the school library last Wednesday evening to answer questions about the proposal and to explain the reasons for the additional time for Bridges.

Principal Kathy Siddoway, teacher MaryMargaret Welch and senior Kate Gunby presented the results of surveys done with parents and teachers, which indicated that nearly two-thirds of the teachers were in favor of expanding the program. However, analysis of the data for all groups surveyed is yet to be completed and copies of the presentation were not made available. Complete results will appear soon on the school district Web site.

Of the parents who came to the Wednesday evening meeting, which was rescheduled late Tuesday to an hour earlier, appeared for the most part not in favor of the expansion or even the concept of the program. Some did not know that there is an opt-out provision for students or that students could change groups.

Many parents objected to what some felt was forced intimacy for students who were shy or unable to fit in with their groups.

``I myself have trouble with forced interaction,'' one parent said.

``It is not a group therapy session,'' Gunby responded. ``It is to be a forum for students.''

``The time will also be used to help with coordinating culminating projects as well as talk about what happened over the weekend, said Siddoway, referring to drug and alcohol use.

While teachers are not paid stipends for the extra work, the Mercer Island Schools Foundation donated $47,000 to pay for speakers, food, and T-shirts, training and a retreat for student leaders.

A report about the expanded program is scheduled for the regular School Board meeting on June. 9. However, the board and the superintendent are also considering scheduling a study session (a working meeting where the board does not hear public comments).

``We need to stem tardiness, cheating and stress,'' said parent Melissa Chasa, a pediatric nurse.``We cannot meet all the needs, for all the kids, but we have to try.''

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