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Middle School Program
The BRIDGES middle school program provides 6th-8th grade students with a developmentally appropriate, hands-on experience in a small, safe, positive learning community where independence and intrinsic motivation are free to flourish. BRIDGES K-8 Charter School is the only public school offering Whole Child education to middle school-aged students in the Conejo Valley. Our Whole Child philosophy, seamlessly extended from kindergarten through eighth grade, provides adolescent children consistency and continuity at a time when their changing bodies and psyche most need it … and allows for the safety and nurturing in which children feel secure taking the educational risks that real growth requires, while building authentic relationships with peers, students in other grades, and adults. The BRIDGES educational program is designed to connect children to their world and to one another, motivating them to be global citizens and leaders who positively shape our culture, rather than merely reflecting it.
At BRIDGES, academic success in the 21st century is defined in terms of critical thinking and problem solving skills, so we’ve developed a curriculum and school culture in which compelling academics are only the beginning of a balanced and meaningful learning experience designed to facilitate the growth of each child’s unique identity and full potential. Our curriculum is structured to develop scholars who are intellectually knowledgeable, physically and emotionally healthy, civically active, artistically engaged, prepared for economic self-sufficiency, and ready to handle life’s future challenges constructively.
In today’s complex society, it is critically important that education address the Whole Child by emphasizing not only the teaching of facts and the use of intelligence as a way of knowing things about the world, but rather by providing experiences by which students integrate layers of meaning and learn processes necessary to engaging both their world and the people with whom they share it. Capable educators thus become the key to each and every student’s success. Because each child comes to the classroom with his/her own unique experiences and will take away from the classroom what is relevant to him/her, our accomplished educators facilitate learning by providing the guidance and structure necessary for each student to construct meaning from his/her experiences and by engaging students in meaningful reflection. At BRIDGES, we believe education should strive towards the continual development of an environment which inspires every graduate to lifelong learning as a responsible and productive member of an ever-changing world. Such an education must address not only how society affects us but how we affect the world around us. BRIDGES therefore educates each child to work constructively with others and to practice how to think rather than what to think … to prepare students for jobs and a life yet to be imagined, and to solve problems yet to be identified. BRIDGES educators are effective because they are caring, while holding high expectations for student success. Dual-grade classrooms allow BRIDGES educators to teach most students for two consecutive years, better enabling them to develop relationships with our students, understand their needs, facilitate their learning, prepare them to think independently, become career and/or college ready, and acquire the skills necessary to accomplish their goals.
“We are living in exponential times.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cL9Wu2kWwSY) There are now about 540,000 words in the English language … five times more than in Shakespeare’s time. It’s estimated that one week’s worth of the NY Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in an entire lifetime during the 18th century. The amount of technical information is currently doubling every 2 years... at that pace, half of what students starting a 4 year technical degree learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study. And predictions are that, by 2049, a $1000 computer will exceed the computational capabilities of the entire human species.
Our traditional educational system was invented to meet the labor needs of an industrializing society; but as our country deindustrializes, few if any of our children can expect to find jobs on an assembly line. Today’s students no longer need educational products, composed of identical, standardized facts and pieces of information; instead, they need educational processes that enable them to practice and master how to gather, sift, assemble and create new pieces of information … processes which allow them to move beyond simply knowing things about the world to being able to engage and shape their world.
BRIDGES educators therefore guide students in generating knowledge that is both useful and applicable, through instruction that is process-orientated rather than product-orientated. Students learn best, in and out of the classroom, through integrated, hands-on lessons which are project-based and often collaborative; thus, our classroom learning is organized in meaningful, purposeful ways through rich, cross-disciplinary subject matter that corresponds to state standards. Our curriculum is structured to allow students to pursue independent educational goals while at the same time requiring them to collaborate with others on shared objectives. Opportunities to learn from, learn with, and assist in the learning of others build and nurture a sense of community and social responsibility, which empowers students to work together for a greater result than that which they could achieve alone.
A BRIDGES middle school schedule consists of core instruction in the four content areas, including Math, Science, Language Arts, and Social Studies, as well as Physical Education and student-selected electives. Continuing the Whole Child philosophy to nurture the development of a whole, balanced person, middle school educators offer a challenging curriculum while ensuring a healthy, engaged, safe and supportive environment. Core curriculum is integrated, offering students the opportunity to make connections in and out of the classroom. In our endeavor to develop students well prepared for life's journey, quality of work, as opposed to quantity, is a key focus. Students are encouraged to engage in intellectual conversations stimulated by reading opportunities of their choice and in student led classroom discussions followed by a variety of authentic assessment tools which include ‘literature circles’, oral presentations, skits, multimedia presentations, and hands-on projects, as well as formal evaluations. Academic field trips (including a 6th grade Outdoor School experience) are utilized to complement and enhance subject area studies while simultaneously synthesizing educational concepts with real-world applications, thereby heightening meaning and relevance.
BRIDGES Charter School’s Mathematics program allows students to develop the skills to be proficient in the California State Mathematics Standards. Sixth through eighth grade math includes pre-algebra and algebra topics. Using a variety of methods and manipulative materials, the program covers number sense, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis and probability. Math students working at grade-level focus on computation of fractions, decimals, percents and integers, and work in applications as the class progresses. Much of the year is spent on studying proportional relationships as well as geometric applications. Advanced math students who show mastery and ability move forward with a rigorous Algebra curriculum.
The Whole Child philosophy is reinforced through the frequent use of labs in science, in order to draw connections to math. The school seeks to balance skill instruction with conceptual learning and problem solving, while fostering an understanding and appreciation of math anchored in the ‘real world’.
The BRIDGES middle school Science program builds on students’ innate sense of awe and wonder by encouraging them to learn about the world around them using the scientific method and the critical thinking skills of science. Balancing scientific concepts with discovery and investigation methods, students follow an integrated approach to accessing the science core curriculum. Frequent hands-on, exploratory, or laboratory work provides students ample opportunities to use the scientific method to investigate science concepts. Science students complete a project for most science units (approximately monthly), which allows them to work at their individual level. Some projects are collaborative, whereas others are independent. Each project incorporates a variety of learning styles, so students can choose how they will represent their learning. Other science units culminate in an activity or experiment designed to synthesize the information which the students have learned. To further enhance learning, technology is integrated into the science curriculum, which includes the California state science standards for life, earth, and the physical sciences.
Because assessing resources in our community helps to ground students to learning in the real world, field trips, guest speakers, ongoing projects, and labs are utilized to enhance the Whole Child experience. Labs also serve to integrate the math and science curriculum as a synthesized and comprehensive whole.
BRIDGES Charter School uses an integrated, literature-based Language Arts program which balances oral and written language, world cultural discovery and exploration, and student-led interest. Using multi-cultural literature and multimedia, the Language Arts program builds upon students’ cultural diversity to expand critical thinking skills to interpret, evaluate and appreciate text-based literary artifacts.
In BRIDGES middle school program, students will competently and confidently utilize their reading and writing skills to effectively communicate their creative ideas, opinions, arguments, and analysis across the disciplines. Reading and writing are integrated with music, art, drama, and other exploratory venues in order to facilitate each child’s ability to fluently express him or herself.
Reading Instruction at BRIDGES Charter School focuses on California grade-level content standards by building on students’ natural interests and cultural backgrounds, and expands into those of their peers and beyond, in order to provide access to multi-discursive literature and literary artifacts as well as a plurality of media text-based forms: electronic, legal, public, news and periodicals. Emphasis is placed on expanding and broadening content exposure while providing opportunities for cross-discursive and cross-media comparison and integration.
By expanding on the school’s K-5 experiences in Written Instruction, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students at BRIDGES Charter School will master California content standards and more by engaging in mini-lessons and workshops that enhance, broaden and build their written language and convention skills. By accessing literary analysis and composition skills, students will have a variety of opportunities to explore and demonstrate mastery in writing.
In grades 6, 7 and 8, BRIDGES students study history and social sciences through an integrated, multi-disciplinary, literature-rich curriculum. California content standards are met by stimulating students’ natural curiosity and presenting history and social studies as real global events with real stories by people with varying perspectives and points of view. Project-based and relevant learning strategies are used to cover the core essentials for 6th-8th grade social studies. As such, language arts standards (listening, speaking, and writing strategies) are incorporated into the social studies curriculum through projects, plays, research, and class presentations. Students practice and hone their public speaking skills as they present information they have gathered for research both individually and with group members.
Students are encouraged to share their own language, culture and heritage to inform a pluralistic perspective of historical events and civilizations. Students will learn to inquire, evaluate and utilize information and stories in a variety of ways to promote a whole history approach grounded in ecological realities. The Whole Child instructional process allows 6th-8th graders the unique opportunity to understand history and societies on a global level, grounded in ecological and historical context, as opposed to a series of isolated incidents unrelated to each other.
BRIDGES Charter School’s Whole Child approach and global focus allows students to integrate content standards in an inclusive anthropological way, as well as to understand the full variety of global, civic and political realities, in order to find themselves as eventual fully participating citizens with responsibilities to each other as a community.
Students in grades 6th-8th are additionally asked to complete an annual, independent, and extensive research project of their choosing. Eighth graders will culminate their BRIDGES Charter School experience with a Global Recognition Project, which will follow an outline students select , develop, and then carry out, with the mission to bridge all of their content knowledge into one concrete demonstration of their learning, interests and passions.
In recognition of the uniqueness of each child, flexibility built-in to the classroom schedule, movement between ability groups, and self-directed learning opportunities are utilized to create a curriculum with greater differentiation for each student. On-site, supervised, after-school Independent (Indie) work time is available for students on a regular basis (with the school resources at hand) to provide opportunities for students to complete homework, with assistance as needed, or to pursue independent research before going home.
Effective communication and organizational skills, which are vital in today’s world, are encouraged and taught, as are time-management skills, through daily use of a ‘planner/organizer’ and weekly entries in a written journal, or ‘Communicator’, that is shared with parents and teachers. To address the unique interpersonal needs of children in the intermediate age group, ‘Circle’ and ‘Council’ continue to be used as tools to allow each child to voice his/her opinions, constructive criticisms, appreciations, and concerns regarding experiences at school. Global issues are addressed while emphasizing the value of being a role-model and leader on our campus and in our community. Middle school educators facilitate and model, and their students learn and practice, compassionate, constructive communication, which aids in peaceful conflict resolution, positive decision-making, and the development of listening skills.
In keeping with our school’s promotion of the healthy habits and active lifestyle necessary for sound minds and bodies, to provide the stimulation and physical activity necessary for brains to think critically, creatively and inventively, and in recognition of our students’ need to develop social skills through peer interaction, BRIDGES middle school students are provided a morning recess as well as an extended lunch time. Sixth graders additionally enjoy twice-weekly P.E. classes, while 7th and 8th graders are provided four 50 minute P.E. sessions per week.
In order to allow middle school students the opportunity to participate in a variety of experiences, elective opportunities are offered in 8 week sessions; the specific classes offered rotate and change to meet the needs as well as the desires of the students. Sixth graders self-select a weekly elective, and seventh and eighth graders self-select two electives which each meet once per week. Elective offerings include participation in charitable causes and student government, creative expression through dance, art, band and chorus, athletic activities, and instruction in leadership, foreign languages, robotics, photography, meditation/yoga, and the culinary arts.
BRIDGES draws a diverse student population, offering a rich tapestry of ethnicity and perspectives that further enrich the educational experience of all our children.
Having experienced the permission to make many of their own educational choices, in a nurturing and safe, developmentally appropriate environment which accommodates different learning styles and encourages intellectual risk-taking, BRIDGES students develop a maturity and self-discipline which will serve them well in high school, college, and beyond.
Having given them the gift of extra time to develop a strong sense of self and master effective communication skills, we are confident that BRIDGES’ students will be able to matriculate into local high schools, and later college and the work force, with a sense of empowerment, an understanding of social dynamics, and the ability to make themselves heard, even in environments that are overcrowded. Without having to navigate many of the counterproductive social issues that often are prevalent in middle school (and which cause some students to “take a step back,” resulting in a lack of confidence due to peer pressure), 8th grade BRIDGES graduates will have had more time with their studies and more practice working with others before venturing into a higher density learning institution. They will likely be academically and socially advanced in their peer group, when considering confidence, leadership, and critical thinking. Their experience at BRIDGES will also prepare them for the expanded interaction with adults which high school, college and a professional career require, and will teach them the flexibility of adapting to new and changing situations.
Throughout the middle school grades, BRIDGES educators will continue to work collaboratively with students, parents, and community members to achieve both campus objectives and the personal aspirations of each child. The ultimate goal of the BRIDGES middle school program is to help each student develop the tools needed to be successful not only as he/she moves on to each successive grade level but also as he/she grows and matures into a contributing member of our society … to cultivate the blossoming of a whole, balanced individual who is personally confident, academically competent, interpersonally skilled, and emotionally resilient … a fulfilled individual who possesses the critical thinking and problem solving skills necessary to tackle future domestic, community, and perhaps global, challenges effectively.