Pride building with bridges
Simon and Garfunkel sang about building a “bridge over troubled waters” to save a love affair from failing. But at Bakersfield’s Pride Academy they are singing the praises of “Bridges” used to help students learn in the classroom.
Students are first time juvenile offenders on probation who have been court-ordered to attend Pride Academy, a year round alternative education school operated by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. Approximately 50 students, ages 15 and under, receive education in three classrooms. Many come into the program with learning difficulties.
Almost four years ago, Pride started using “Bridges Learning Systems” founded by Bill Brock, a former congressman, senator and secretary of labor. Used nationally in hundreds of schools, the program “works to improve attention span, memory, comparison/contrast thinking, eye-hand coordination, systems reasoning and other skills essential to the learning process, helping students perform better in school and life.”
Dede Boylan was trained by Bridges and for the past two-and-a-half years has been Pride Academy’s Bridges specialist, working one-on-one with approximately 14-15 students, twice-a-week. Each session takes the student out of the regular classroom for 40 minutes over a nine month period, but it is time the Pride staff feels is well spent.
“Students referred to me have problems managing themselves in the classroom, either with the work itself or behaviorally,” Boylan said. “The first thing I do is give them a clinical learning assessment test and that test is sent on to Bridges to develop a specific program of learning development exercises created solely for the individual. The exercises are all designed to help the student do better in the classroom.”
On this particular day, Boylan worked with a 15-year-old named Clay. First he was asked to repeatedly toss and catch a rubber ball while staying perfectly balanced on a board with rockers. Then, it was onto a trampoline where he received verbal instructions through a headset and followed visuals signs on a wall directing him to perform several moving exercises with his arms, at the same time maintaining balance with his feet. A third exercise had Clay walking heel-to-toe for about 10 feet, forwards and backwards, on a four-inch wide board, focusing on a wall chart while wearing 3D glasses.
Afterwards, Clay sat down to work on a series of Bridges’ visual brain teasers testing his mental awareness and ability to focus on problems.
“At first, I thought it was kind of weird,” Clay said. “But school work has been hard for me, and the exercises have helped me avoid distractions. That’s because the exercises get harder and harder forcing you to stayed focused.”
According to Boylan, Bridges targets sensory integration and focusing skills.
“Several students have problems reading because they can’t keep their eyes focused on the paper,” Boylan said. “They get easily distracted and lose their place when reading. Balancing exercises concentrate on keeping the body in place to avoid distractions. Focusing skills get the eyes working together, strengthening them for reading. The Bridges program doesn’t guarantee to turn someone into a model student, but they will be able to focus better and that is a big benefit when it comes to learning.”