The Bridge Program at Bay Ridge Prep is designed to address the needs of students with diagnosed learning differences. The program currently runs from the 6th grade through the 12th grade and offers a specialized learning environment for students who are generally in the average to above average range of cognitive functioning in either language abilities or nonverbal skills or both. These students have demonstrated significant weaknesses in one or more of the following areas: language abilities, memory, attention, perceptual-motor skills, executive functioning skills and/or academic areas. The specific deficits can affect one or more of the following areas: the ability to decode accurately and fluently, read with comprehension, encode words, write, organize work or belongings, or engage in mathematical computations and/or applied problem solving.
The aim of the curriculum is to maximize the learning potential of each student through the development of a focused, individualized educational program. The classes are student-centered and provide a variety of learning activities that draw upon the strengths of each student. Key elements of the program may include a limited class size, appropriate pacing of instruction, presentation of course material through a variety of formats, and assessment of learning through diverse methodology. The program has a multidisciplinary staff that includes special education teachers, school and educational psychologists, and speech and language pathologists.
Many Bridge Program students are diagnosed as dyslexic or learning disabled and require a program modeled after the Orton-Gillingham approach; with lessons that are structured, sequential, and multi-sensory in nature. As needed, students are provided with speech and language services, counseling services or both. These services may be provided based on information provided by previous evaluations and indicated on IEPs. However, either or both of these may also be offered based on the needs identified in the school setting. There is no additional charge for these services for students in the Bridge Program.
The development of reading and writing proficiency and overall language skills are integrated with the teaching of other subjects such as Social Studies. In this way, the relevance and direct usefulness of these skills can be reinforced and generalized beyond the specific skill training. At the same time that the program works to improve areas of weakness in language, it is also recognizes that students need to continue to develop their individual strengths. For example, a number of language-impaired students demonstrate stronger learning abilities in nonverbal domains. To support these strengths, many classes are taught using various visual aids and hands-on material. In addition, students are given opportunities to respond to instruction in a variety of ways. This may include projects such as written papers supplemented by photos or diagrams prepared by students, art projects connected to the topic area, or dramatic interpretations of some event.
In addition, various graphic organizers (e.g., story maps, cause and effect or Fishbone maps, KWL charts) are used during instruction to help students to further develop concepts and better understand what they have learned. This also provides another cognitive pathway (i.e., visual) that can be utilized by the student to mentally organize what he or she is learning. In this way, the whole classroom environment is intended to facilitate language and other academic development and increase the potential for acquiring new material. Our own teaching experiences as well as independent research with learning disabled students have supported such practices because they tap the individual learning styles of each student while encouraging and facilitating better retention and recall of material being taught in the class.
A final, essential skill for children with learning needs is the ability to generalize basic skills that are taught in one class to other content areas. This is an important part of becoming a more independent learner. Teachers encourage students to begin to apply what they learn in a particular subject to other classes and eventually outside of the classroom environment. To support this, various themes are often taught across the curriculum. For example, in science, some students studied the ability of animals to adapt to their environment. In their Language Arts class they were reading Call of the Wild. In both classes, discussions focused on how the dog Buck adapted to his environment to survive. These approaches are supplemented by work on study skills and different mnemonic strategies taught throughout the school year.
The curriculum in history and science is the same as the curriculum in the mainstream; however, there are modifications in the way the material is taught, the way the students are tested, and in the pacing. Students who are strong in a particular subject (i.e., math) can be mainstreamed for that subject when appropriate. The Bridge Program provides a unique opportunity for students to grow academically and emotionally. It is the perfect setting for parents seeking an environment that is safe, warm, and effective at meeting the needs of a learning disabled child. Small class sizes, a uniquely trained staff, and individualized academic programs allow the students to overcome many of the obstacles they encounter as a result of their learning differences. Speech and language and counseling are available to students who require these services. Our philosophy recognizes that all of a student’s needs, including the social and emotional needs, have to be addressed in order for the child to excel to their potential.
The curriculum of the Upper School Bridge program is similar to the curriculum in the mainstream, with modifications to allow students to utilize their strengths and benefit maximally from the subject matter. Courses are taught using different pacing, multi-modal techniques, and a variety of research-based organizational strategies to help students handle the demands of the subject matter.
The Upper School Bridge Program offers small class size and specially trained teachers, which allows for the flexibility to adapt to each student's unique learning style. The courses cover the required content of the New York State curriculum, with the objective to be prepared for state exams in respective subjects. Every attempt is made to tailor the content to the student's level of comprehension. Students are given ample time to complete assignments. For students demonstrating particular strengths in an academic subject, mainstreaming may be considered.
Support periods are built into each student's schedule, to allow for strengthening of academic and study skills in areas of need (e.g., mathematics or reading). Support staff work with students in small groups, in coordination with classroom teachers. Teachers and support staff use a variety of educational and organizational techniques (e.g., scaffolding) to present new material to students and develop the skills needed for more advanced learning opportunities. Students are permitted to take full advantage of any special accommodations that are listed on their IEPs (if applicable), such as extended time on exams, readers when needed, use of a calculator for mathematics, etc.
Other supports, including speech/language services or group counseling services, are available. Students have access to a licensed psychologist for crisis intervention throughout the day, if ever needed. Upon entry, each student will also be assigned a mentor, who will touch base with the student on a weekly basis (or more, if necessary) to ensure that the student is keeping up with the demands of Upper School. The mentor, as well as the classroom teachers and support staff, will help the student to develop organizational and planning skills necessary for success in both school and life.