One area school is expanding its upper and lower grade offerings and adding an out-of-the-box teaching space, with plans to eventually build a new structure for the youngest grades.
After input from its stakeholders, the Bridges Academy Board of Directors approved plans to add high school grades, one grade each year, with ninth grade beginning this fall. Also, the Bridges Educational Foundation, a nonprofit group that supervises the charter school, will begin offering a 4-year-old prekindergarten program at the school in the fall.
Since last year, Melissa Tharpe, who had been a member of the board, came on full-time as expansion and development coordinator for Bridges, said Merry Lowe, co-director of the school.
Tharpe has led the efforts to expand the school’s grade offerings.
As new grades are added, the school facility will need additional building space for classrooms, so the board has chosen to build a new structure on a 10-acre tract of land diagonally southeast of the existing campus, across Pleasant Ridge Road. Lowe said officials hope to be in the structure, which will house prekindergarten through second grades, in 18 months, although they are awaiting approvals for several items such as water and sewer.
Moving those younger grades will allow for expansion of the high school grades, she said.
“Our high school is going to be a hybrid or blended high school,” Lowe explained.
The blended high school will feature some classes with on-site teachers and other classes offered through the North Carolina Virtual Public Schools’ online program. In addition, she and Tharpe said they are working with Wilkes Community College to have higher educational opportunities available to the students.
“The goal is in four to five years to have a full high school,” Lowe said.
Bridges will implement a program called Apex to offer basic high school courses, while the NCVPS courses will be college-bound level, Tharpe explained. “We’re the first to provide anything like that around,” she said.
In planning for the 4-year-old class, Lowe said the original plan was to offer a combo class for 4- and 5-year olds, but so many parents have applied for the 4-year-old program that they’ve had to create its own class. Eighteen students are registered for the prekindergarten class already.
Tharpe said eventually Bridges Educational Foundation hopes to offer an educational-based program, rather than daycare only, for children ages 2 through 4.
The school is still working on how it will fund the preschool-age programs, Lowe said, but as far as the school construction project, the board’s finance committee is taking out a loan which will be funded through the state allotment the school receives.
“The way our school funding is done for us, we do not have line item accounts from the state, so we can move our funding around as needed to fund that,” Lowe said.
“Financially, we’re doing the best we’ve ever done,” Tharpe said.
In addition to funding that follows the student from the public school system it lives in to the charter school, as well as state and federal funds, Bridges receives several grants to help with funding, including one from the Parents for Educational Freedom North Carolina, Lowe said.
One prekindergarten teacher and teaching assistant have been hired to instruct at the prekindergarten level, and Bridges is recruiting an educational coach to facilitate the ninth-grade program.
Lowe said they are expecting about 80 percent of Bridges’ eighth-graders to move up to the ninth grade in the fall, with some of the eighth-graders attending early college high schools in their respective counties.
One of Lowe’s dreams is to be able to offer a “super senior” or early college option at the charter school.
In addition to expanding its grade offerings, Bridges Academy is under construction this summer as a new outside classroom facility is being built.
Lowe said the new structure is going up behind the middle-school building and will include white board, terrarium/aquarium area, exhibits and exercise stations around it. She said plans are to have a greenhouse by spring 2019 at that location.
“We’re really excited about it,” she said.
An open house and unveiling of the new outside classroom is scheduled for Aug. 21 at 6 p.m.
For more information on Bridges Academy, contact the school at 336-874-2721.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.