Bridging the gap between students and a high school diploma

Jun 11, 2014

Two alternative ways of getting teens to achieve their high school diplomas came together in Kalispell about a year ago. Director of the Linderman Education Center Jodie Barber says the Bridge Academy was one of the first in the state to offer an online graduation option for students.

“We have Flathead and Glacier students who are seeking an alternative learning experience. Whether it’s because of social-emotional issues, whether it’s deficiency in credits, whether they want a smaller environment, whether it’s flexible scheduling, we’re able to really try to build a student-centered schedule,” Barber said.

Bridge has been around for about 15-years. Barber said the Laser Alternative High School has been around for more than 30-years.

“And it was set up for dropout prevention. So, even all those years ago they were seeing kids struggling with the traditional setting. And so, they started this program where students would come, and they would come all day, they would work on their classes, but everything was independent,” Barber said.

She said both were originally dropout-prevention or recovery, and that’s still the case, but she says student needs have changed, and there’s a strong draw both to the flexible schedule, and the online/offline classroom opportunity.

Students collaborated with a local artist to create a sculpture that aims to create a visual both of the coming together of the two schools, and the goal of the alternative education center.

The sculpture uses pieces of the Old Steel Bridge which used to cross the Flathead River in Evergreen on the east side of Kalispell.

18-year-old student Rick Gilley was involved in the initial drawing process.

“A couple of my friends and I decided to come up with some ideas, and then whenever we got it all together, Lee collaborated the ideas into his own thing, and the next thing you know we have this, out here, and it’s absolutely beautiful,” Gilley said.

Bigfork artist Lee Proctor donated two metal pieces about 18’ long, these reach up, into the sky, arching toward each other and crossing, they’re topped with the two pieces of the bridge like arrows pointing up. Students worked with Proctor in his Bigfork studio to shape the metal, and on the glass cast handprints and globes. Laura McCann teaches art and photography at this alternative high school. McCann won a “Great Opportunities Grant” to fund the project, and worked with the Hockaday Museum of Art to find Lee Proctor who works with metal and glass in sculpture.