New kids get a bridge to success in Baltimore County

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Helping students with the academic struggles that can result from mobility is one part of the mission of the Bridge Center in Baltimore County Public Schools.

The district launched the center in partnership with county social service agencies to provide a safety net for students who have recently moved into the district and have been referred for extra help by school or district officials. While the program does not aim to curb mobility, district officials recognize that the problem exists—and that students who have moved around or face other challenges need more support to succeed.

Many of the students are in foster care, and studies by the district found that these students struggled academically and often had incomplete school records, had breaks in schooling or had attended several schools, according to Dale Rauenzahn, the district’s executive director of student support services.

“If they jump around too much, no one knows what instruction they have had,” says David Lloyd, principal of the Bridge Center. “There is no continuity in their education.” (Baltimore County school district does not include schools in the city of Baltimore.)

Students benefit from longer class periods and small class sizes. Each day, students take 75-minute classes in reading, math, English and a “life skills” topic: drug education, personal development, social skills, study skills or technology. The average class size is 12. Counseling and social services are also provided.

Students attend the center for one to three weeks before transitioning to their home public school, but teachers and social workers from the center provide support for up to six months. “Roving” teachers co-teach classes and provide group or individual tutoring at the student’s home school, to help the new students feel more comfortable and acclimate more readily. Teachers also check in on the students at least once a week, and social workers stay in contact with students and their families.

“We help pave the way for the kid to be successful,” Rauenzahn says. “For the kid who moves around three and four times, we hope they finally have a great time once they arrive—and from the stories they tell us, we know this is true.”

Last year, 174 students attended the Bridge Center.