Shelbyville Daily Union

May 2, 2014

Bridges program gives struggling students a second chance

Valorie Eversole Daily Union Editor
Shelbyville Daily Union

---- — Students who are struggling in school or facing expulsion or the possibility of expulsion have a second chance to gain their high school diploma.

The Bridges program was designed to help those students who may otherwise not complete their high school education. The program has been in existence in Shelbyville for the past 11 years.

“Bridges was designed under the state’s Safe School Law,” said Regional Superintendent Dr. Bobbi Mattingly, who also designed the program in 1996. “We built the program on the basis of what others (districts) do with the kids.”

Bridges is available in three cities in the region to cover the seven counties in the region: Paris, Lerna, and Shelbyville.

“It is the intent that every school in our region has access to this program,” Mattingly said.

Currently four county school districts have students in the Shelbyville Bridges program. The program runs an average of 20 students from 6th through 12th grade.

The students arrive to the building on East North 12th Street by 8:15 a.m. for a normal school day with classes in English, math, science, social studies, character education, and art. Two full time licensed instructors and one part time instructor work with the students. The students work at their own pace at the levels in each subject. They also have access to online courses for higher level classes. Some students are able to complete their requirements before the school year is over.

Chuck Lowell and John Mikeworth are the full time teachers for the students. Deb Nivens teaches art three days every two weeks.

Much of the computer equipment and other supplies are donated from area businesses. Funding for the program is through a grant from the Illinois State Board of Education and state aid. And just like other school districts, the program is also struggling with a tight budget.

“These kids are not bad kids. They are just like all kids. We love them and they love us,” Mattingly said.

“One of the things we teach them is to make better choices,” Lowell said.

“They also like investigating things in more depth,” Mikeworth said. “We allow them to do that to keep them interested.”

“It’s (Bridges) done a lot for me. It’s helped me be a better person,” said student Levi Hopkins.

Each year the students work on a class project. This year they will be rebuilding the “Bridges” sign at the North Morgan and 12th Street intersection.

The students are expected to complete the same education requirements as their home districts require.

“The students have the choice to finish school here or go back to their schools, which is ideally what we want them to do. But we give them the choice,” said Assistant Regional Superintendent and Bridges superintendent Kyle Thompson. “We work closely with the district superintendents and principals, giving them weekly updates.”

The staff and parents work out a Individual Alternate Education Plan for each student. Academic progress, attendance, and evaluation of how well the student is living up to the six character traits they are working on are recorded.

Thompson noted that the school celebrated 98 percent attendance during March.

“The kids hold each other accountable. They motivate each other to come to school.” Thompson said.

Bridges is not a GED program. Students of Bridges fully complete their high school education and graduate with their class in their home district, receiving their diplomas. Many of the students go on to college.

“We are proud that many who go on to college succeed there.” Mattingly said.