Elements of Education Partner Schools stand on four pillars: Community, Balance, Thinking, and Empathy. Community and Empathy are exhibited daily at SAMi and SOTA through an elective course called BRIDGE. BRIDGE is a semester long class where Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors take on a role comparable to that of a teacher’s assistant. They take part in a class to do what their name suggests: Serve to bridge the gap between student and teacher. Heather Olmstead and Stacee Flynn currently teach the class, although BRIDGE has been offered at SAMi since its first year, when freshmen comprised the entire school. The success of this program warrants its amount of participants and longevity.

Having an extra person can be a big help in the classroom. BRIDGEs will do anything from taking attendance and grading tests and papers, to direct interaction with students who have particular study needs. This allows teachers to focus on other topics at hand, whether it be large group instruction or focus on a single individual.

Those who sign up to BRIDGE are not thrown straight into the job. The first week and a half of the semester are spent training for the roles as classroom assistants. The past experiences from old students, and questions from the new are common topics during this period. Mrs. Flynn and Ms. Olmstead also give information about evaluations and check-ins that serve to ensure a BRIDGE’s positive classroom presence year-round. At the end of this training stage, each student lists their top three preferences for courses to assist in. Teachers in the highest need of help get first pick based on the listing. Students hear of their placements by the end of the week and begin work the following Monday or Tuesday.

Both this semester and the last, I scored my top choice as a BRIDGE for a first year Spanish class. The teacher Kayo Charbonnel-Mackley (known by her students as Profe Mackley) has been speaking Spanish for years, and teaches her class with animated passion. Mine and the other first period Spanish BRIDGE’s jobs are to help Profe Mackley with her class setup and to support the students. We collaborate to split tasks between both interpersonal and behind-the-scenes work. Since everyone learns at a different pace, BRIDGE’s are there to pick up where normal instruction might leave off for certain individuals. One-on-one Spanish study, review, and conversation is my main focus this semester. If Profe Mackley is busy, then I may take over warming up and asking questions of the students in Spanish while she prepares for the day.

At first this position went against my introverted nature. However, within a few weeks, acting as a cheerleader to the class became what felt like the right thing to do. While the work is not always easy, it is rewarding. Understanding the special needs of students teaches me empathy. A duty of mine and many other BRIDGEs is to assist with learning plans tailored to the challenges of specific individuals. Through this undertaking I have learned that a complicated home life can be just as much of a learning disability as a medical disorder. No matter their struggles, it is a BRIDGE and teacher’s collaborative goal to ensure the success of each and every student.