Bridge School kids write, build, volunteer

MIDDLEBURY — For an unusual school project this year, 11-year-old Declan Anderson sponsored two cats at Homeward Bound, the Addison County Humane Society. His specific mission — spending time with both Molly and Cleo, 12-year-old sisters, until they were adopted.
Anderson had spotted the pair of felines during his regular visits to Homeward Bound, temporary home to scores of cats, dogs and other animals seeking homes.
“I just love animals,” said a smiling Anderson, whose household includes two dogs and three cats. “I like helping them.”
The project that gave Anderson time and motivation to try something out of the ordinary was “Bridge 20.” It’s a program at the Bridge School where students were challenged to spend 20 percent of their class time looking for some academic answers of their own, resulting in projects that are producing dividends for themselves and the community at large.
It was last summer that Bridge School teacher Amanda Warren, at the recommendation of her parents (who are both educators, too) read the book “#EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education,” by Grant Lichtman. The book keys on innovations in education and explores what innovative teaching actually looks like inside of the classroom, according to Warren.
One of the innovations that Lichtman lists in his book is the “Google 20” project, through which the company encourages its employees to spend 20 percent of their time in the office working on projects outside of their normal job responsibilities.
Warren decided to adopt this concept for her nine 5th- and 6th-grade language arts students at the Bridge School.
“I was looking for something that would really tap into those ideas of independent learning, independent scaffolding of a project, and allowing students to explore something they are passionate about and see where it took them,” Warren said.
Thus, “Bridge 20” was born — an eight-month program at the small private school in which participating students were asked to take on self-directed projects of their choosing and devote 20 percent of their class time to those endeavors.
Each student came up with an idea, pitched it to the group, managed the time available to work on the project, and presented his or her final product in a public setting. Students spent each Friday in language arts and unlimited hours outside of school working on their project.
Warren challenged her students to think big, either on a personal or global level, in choosing their Bridge 20 project themes.
“Is there an opportunity that I see in my school or my community that I can tap into?” was among the questions students were asked to reflect upon. “Is there an idea floating around in my brain that I can really dive deep into?”
Through this kind of self-reflection and trial and error, Warren hopes Bridge 20 will set her students up for future success in whatever fields they choose to embrace in their academic and professional lives.
All kinds of projects
The students’ Bridge 20 projects ran the gamut in terms of themes. One student built a skateboard. Another wrote a fantasy novel. Yet another engaged in photography.
Then there were those students who meandered into capitalism and kitties.
It didn’t take too long for Anderson to think of a Bridge 20 project that would be personally fulfilling and hopefully culminate in the adoption of two cats. And adult cats are often more challenging to place than kittens.
For seven straight weeks, Anderson visited his two purring subjects every Wednesday and Friday, and sometimes on weekends. He’d sit down with Molly and Cleo in the Homeward Bound visiting room, petting them and talking to them.
“I was very determined to get them a home,” Anderson said.
To that end, he gave Cleo and Molly their own Facebook page. He posted updates on the two cats and started receiving some good feedback. That feedback evolved into community interest. To Anderson’s great joy, a family opened its doors to both cats.
“I feel like I made a difference in their lives,” Anderson said of the cats.
Twelve-year-old Emerson Zelis turned Bridge 20 into an entrepreneurial opportunity — her own brand of cinnamon sugar, using real maple sugar.
Zelis was struggling to find a project theme before her mom prompted her to do something with what has been a traditional snack in their household — cinnamon toast.
It’s pretty simple to make and produce, so Zelis just needed to experiment with the sugar-to-cinnamon ratios. Her classmates served as good guinea pigs and recommended that she go with seven parts maple sugar to one part cinnamon.
Zelis made enough cinnamon sugar to fill 70 shaker containers.
“The hardest part was funneling (the mixture) into the bottles,” she said.
She designed flyers and posted them, mostly around school. Zelis sold 60 containers at $4.50 per, with 10 left to sell. Zelis donated her profits to the nonprofit Rainbow Writing Center in Shrewsbury.
“It taught me how to plan my time well,” she said of the exercise. “I also learned that spreadsheets are very useful.”
Zelis is thinking about starting a website to help advise kids on how to start a business.
Will she use cinnamon sugar as a springboard to a career in business?
“I want to be a writer, for books or television,” Zelis said.
Warren is pleased with how her students attacked their assignment.
“My real focus in doing this project was the process,” Warren said. “We used the kind of end goal as an exercise in goal setting. But the whole time, I wanted them to really focus on the process, the self-reflective pieces that go into building and implementing a project.”
She said she saw “immense growth” in the students during the course of the project.
“I watched them go from feeling really nervous and resistant and not having confidence in their ability to generate ideas, to having this huge sense of pride,” Warren said. “Seeing them present projects to the school community was such a cool moment.”
Warren said next year’s class will also participate in Bridge 20.
“It feels pretty exciting that this could turn into a tradition,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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