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Sun., Oct. 4
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Watertown middle and high school create bridging program


Watertown High School’s Bridging Program, which starts today, is like a friendly boot camp for at-risk incoming freshmen.

During the monthlong session, three dozen students and counting will become familiar with the high school setting in the hope that they will gain confidence, become leaders when they start the new year and, ultimately, improve the district’s graduation rate.

“We definitely want to build their confidence,” said O. Nelly Collazo, co-assistant principal of the high school. “We can remember what is it like to be freshmen and going through the doors and wondering where to sit in the cafeteria.”

The program, funded through a $1.5 million Department of Defense Education Activity grant, was Assistant Superintendent Mary-Margaret U. Zehr’s idea. Mrs. Zehr passed on research for the project, and Mrs. Collazo and Case Middle School Principal Terrance L. Gonseth took over.

There is no attendance policy, so students can join whenever they want or go on only some of the days.

Mr. Gonseth said he is leaving the high school doors open for anyone who hears about the program and wants to drop in, even students who are not yet entering high school.

“They might be friends with other at-risk students,” he said. “They might not have anything better to do and come here to see that the school isn’t this horrible, scary place.”

Mrs. Collazo agreed, noting the high school is twice the size of Case Middle School.

“The bottom line is to give them skills to be successful in high school,” she said.

The incoming freshmen will develop study and note-taking skills and become familiar with the layout of the school, including use of the lockers. They will compete in a scavenger hunt after learning their way around. Also, they will take short courses with a team of teachers in technology, math, literacy and English language arts.

“For their final project for math, they’re going to be creating a rocket,” Mrs. Collazo said. “For ELA, they’re going to be reading ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and building a boat and raft.”

They also will go on team-building field trips, including one to Beaver Camp, a Christian camp and retreat in Lowville.

Throughout the monthlong sessions, students will fill out surveys on what is working and what could make the program better next summer. Additionally, Mr. Gonseth wants the students tracked in four years to see how many of them graduate.

“We’re about supporting, nurturing and providing guidance to children and getting them to graduate on time,” said Leslie E. Atkinson, co-assistant principal of the high school. “Everybody knows that a common stumbling block for a child is when they enter high school.”

Additionally, the students will participate in a freshmen-only Reading Buddies-type program with pupils at Knickerbocker Elementary School. Reading Buddies, similar to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, is usually reserved for high-achieving juniors and seniors.

“They are going to display themselves as philanthropic,” Mrs. Collazo said. “If they find love in it and have the passion in it, then they can do it as juniors and seniors. We want the kids to know we want them to be leaders in this cohort.”

The Bridging Program will run from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday until Aug. 9. For more information or to register, call the Case Middle School guidance office at 785-3880.

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