Summer Bridge Gets Creative with Focus on Relationships

Grade 9 SuccessRISE by 5 Strategies

Across the network, all 10 RISE high schools implement summer bridge programs to provide rising Grade 9 students with the tools to excel academically and become familiar with their high school building and community. This summer, RISE partners adapted Grade 9 summer bridge programs to emphasize building relationships and community, helping students get acclimated to being a student again after six months of learning remotely, and providing a space for students to make some new friends.

Educators met prior to the launch of this year’s program to discuss ways to successfully pull three different types of summer bridge programs off: virtual, hybrid and in-person. Ultimately, one school offered a hybrid model, three chose to go virtual, and six held an in-person program following safety precautions with social distancing, masks, and lots of hand sanitizer.

Whether in-person or online, 2020 bridge programs looked markedly different than in past years. Through creative ideas like using Kahoot and Jeopardy for trivia games quizzing students on what they’ve learned during the program, and creating welcome videos featuring educators for each Google Classroom, educators were able to create authentic and engaging ways for students to learn about what it means to be a high school student and create relationships with their teachers and peers in the process. With an increased importance and relevance placed on helping rising Grade 9 students develop and build strong relationships with their respective high schools due to COVID-19 school closures in the spring, RISE partner high schools developed multiple ways to get students connected. 

Career High School in New Haven, which held a remote summer bridge program, provided students with virtual field trips and presentations. Career’s program also found ways for students to also connect offline by holding a parade for Grade 9 students and their families to pick up swag. Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk held an in-person program, with “High School 101” sessions focused on getting rising Grade 9 students used to being in a classroom setting again. These sessions included a collection of lessons that On-Track Doordinators designed to help build students interpersonal and communication skills (e.g., how to self-advocate respectfully and professionally when talking to a teacher). Check out McMahon’s Summer Bridge schedule here! 

“This orientation made me feel so prepared and less nervous. I learned about the credits and it made me realize how important a lot of things are in high school,” a McMahon rising Grade 9 student said. “Also [I learned about] attendance. I had an idea of it but now I know I need to try my best. The tour was also very helpful, I would always be nervous about getting lost, but now that I have an idea of the school it’s very helpful. The staff is super nice which is really good and they’re fun!”

At Hartford Public High School, which held a two-week virtual summer bridge, they leveraged a virtual youth group to solicit student voice and input. Middletown High School also went virtual for their program, and they provided rising Grade 9 students with the opportunity to join student-led restorative justice programs. At Naugatuck High School, which offered in-person sessions four days per week and virtual Fridays for three weeks, students earned half a credit for taking a course on relationship building. 

We know this school year will present new challenges, but we are also excited for the possibilities and opportunities that educators are creating for their schools and their students. As always, we are inspired by the hard work and long hours all 10 RISE high schools devoted to successfully organizing summer bridge programs that helped acclimate rising Grade 9 students to their school buildings and communities.