Bridges Academy, a longtime leader in twice-exceptional education, is launching an online high school beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year. The program — with Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation and University of California A-G approved courses — is designed to bring Bridges’s unique brand of strength-based learning to students, regardless of their geographic location.
The synchronous program features Bridges’s team approach, with a focus on talent development, personalized academic support for 2e students, and a robust school-family partnership.
Discussions about the online version of the Los Angeles-based Bridges Academy had been in the works long before the COVID pandemic, but the necessities of online learning as well as the success Bridges had offering online courses last summer accelerated the rollout.
“Because Bridges is such a unique program that serves a specific population of students, we receive a lot of interest from families beyond our local area,” said Chris Wiebe, director of coordinated programs and services for Bridges. “Over the years, some families have relocated for the sole purpose of coming to Bridges, but most families aren’t able to do that, lamenting, ‘if only we lived closer …’ So we have always been exploring ways to grow our ability to support students and their families.”
Offering a comprehensive program to enable students to earn their high school diplomas, core classes include English, math, science, and social sciences, as well as electives such as computer programming, art, and creative writing. As with the on-campus experience, Bridges Academy Online students participate in the Young Experts Program, a highly personalized, student-driven learning model that pairs students with faculty coaches to develop deep knowledge and skills in an area of passion. This flagship program, Wiebe says, often makes the difference for students as they move on to college and careers.
“Building core academic skills is important,” Wiebe said. “And for a 2e student, that must take place alongside a focus on building individual talents and strengths, setting students up for a life where they are engaged in work that is personally fulfilling and meaningful to them.”
As with programming at the brick-and-mortar Bridges Academy campus, all classes are designed for 2e students and have teachers who are experienced in working with the 2e population. The teaching strategies and student accommodations developed at Bridges will extend into the online realm, where the focus remains on the student.
“Building core academic skills is important. And for a 2e student, that must take place alongside a focus on building individual talents and strengths, setting students up for a life where they are engaged in work that is personally fulfilling and meaningful to them.”
In many ways, the virtual classroom can provide enhanced learning opportunities for some 2e students. “One important thing that we learned,” Wiebe said about the success Bridges has experienced with students learning remotely during the pandemic, “is that students will vary how well the online format suits their needs as a learner. We’ve found that more introverted learners will actually engage in class dialogue with more frequency and participate more because they can contribute within the context of a written chat or shared doc instead of or in addition to a verbal video conversation. So the format suits them well because they have different ways to participate.”
Because many 2e students have various forms of social anxiety as well, online engagement can be more beneficial compared to the limitations they might feel in a brick-and-mortar environment. “A student with executive functioning issues might find it easier to manage assignments and other responsibilities when a tech platform supplies the infrastructure for the majority of learning experiences,” Wiebe said. “A student prone to disruption might find it easier to control his or her space in an online format and engage more productively. A student for whom social aspects can get in the way of learning might be able to better learn to self-regulate in this format.”
Success in education is created by the synergy between students and teachers. It is an unofficial requirement that Bridges teachers be interesting people — “life-long learners” who have passion projects that students often gravitate toward. Sharing their interests and projects with their students, inside and outside of the curriculum, builds community. In the past, students have participated in “real world” scientific research, art installations, musical performances, robotics demonstrations, and other projects in collaboration with their teachers and other students.
Online learning presents an opportunity to curate a collaborative environment by using online tools to facilitate as many interpersonal interactions as possible. Before COVID, the trend in the workplace was toward remote offices, where people could work at home or in any location and contribute just as efficiently as they would in a typical office situation. In fact, remote working in many industries has been increasingly considered to be more effective for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons overlap with the best executive functioning skills that aid in the development of the 2e mind, such flexible scheduling, controlled environment, limited social interactions, alternative means of communication, and tech-based creative problem-solving.
For these reasons and more, Wiebe says, there are some learners for whom an online program is uniquely suited to serve their needs as a student.
DISCLOSURE: Bridges Academy, the 2e Center, and 2e News all are part of the Bridges Education Group.