At the School Committee’s December 21 meeting, Special Education Director Stacey Bissell gave a presentation on the BRIDGE program, which is now in its ninth year. BRIDGE stands for Building Resiliency, Integrity, Determination and Growth through Education. The program serves Sanford students with behavioral issues or psychological disabilities that interfere with learning. Some students are identified by the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) process, while others come to the school after being expelled for disciplinary reasons. The School District is still responsible for their education, even if they have been expelled, and prior to the establishment of the BRIDGE program, the students were sent to other programs out of the district.
Ms. Bissell told the Committee that, since its inception, BRIDGE has served our students better by keeping them connected to the community, and has saved taxpayers a considerable amount of money in the process. The program serves middle and high school students and has a graduation rate of 93.4%. With three teachers, there is currently a 24 student maximum, but the program averages 20 students, as some transition back to regular school. In addition to the Sanford students, the program currently has two tuition students from other districts.
Ms. Bissell said it has always been the goal to make BRIDGE available for K-12 students, and she is developing a plan to add elementary students to the program. At this time there are eleven K-5 students placed out of district, though BRIDGE may not be suitable for all of them. School Committee members responded positively to the idea of expansion. Ms. Bissell will meet with her team, and if they agree an elementary program can be designed in time to start next September, the Committee will take up the issue again in January.
She finished up her presentation with an anecdote about a current student who is graduating in 2021 and is now applying to colleges. The student told Ms. Bissell she never expected to get a high school diploma, much less go to college. “That is why I do what I do,” she told the Committee.