Bridges Middle School has been, quite literally, a lifesaver for Dylan and for our family. I know that sounds overly dramatic, but truly it is not. Without Bridges Middle School, the wonderful, caring staff and the innovative program, I do not think Dylan would be with us today.
Dylan has always been a sensitive child, and the transition to 6th grade and Jr. High was hard for him. We were expecting hard, we were not expecting how hard it became - for everyone in the family. Doug and I are believers in, and huge supporters of, the public school system. We are both products of it, I went to a state university, Doug is a public school teacher. And yet we were totally unprepared for how completely a public school system let our child down, let the family down and then, adding insult to injury, tried desperately to place the blame first on a child in crisis, then on the parents, then on the fact that "Jr. High is cruel and there is nothing anyone can do about it." I refuse to believe that - there is always something someone can do and cruelty in whatever form - physical, mental or emotional is unacceptable, especially in a school - and yet they (the School District Staff, Teachers, Counselors, etc) threw up their hands and said Dylan needed to tough it out.
Dylan, our sensitive, outgoing, emotional artist, described his life at Jr. High as being a red flower among a sea of yellow flowers - and it was bad to be a red flower. By halfway through the school year, Dylan was terrified to set foot inside the school. Forcing him to walk in was like watching a condemned prisoner walking to the gallows - he hunched forward, trying to make himself as small as possible, rounded shoulders, eyes down - curled in upon himself. By early spring, my only goal for Dylan was to be alive in June when school let out. I would sit up two or three nights a week with him as he sobbed about school, how stupid he was, how there was not reason to do anything - how a black cloud engulfed him and followed him around all of the time. Doug and I begged and pleaded with the school district for help, and they told us we coddled him and he needed to get used to schools like this. Dylan could never be alone, we hired someone to be there after school with him; we hid kitchen knives, cleaning supplies, put locks on windows, etc. and loved Dylan with everything we had hoping that would make the difference for him.
We stumbled upon information about Bridges Middle School in our darkest hour. When we first arranged a visit, I do not think either Doug or I had very high hopes, but from the beginning it was apparent that this place was different. Dylan had once described his "perfect" school as one in which there were small classrooms, and teachers who took the time to talk to you and help you; where he had a couple dozen friends and everyone enjoyed hanging out together; where he wasn't weird or crazy, but fit in with everyone else - someplace he felt safe and valued. Dylan had described Bridges to a tee - it was amazing, he had never been there, but he knew exactly what he needed. And Doug and I can only feel extraordinarily blessed that there was a place like Dylan described.
When I picked Dylan up in front of Bridges after his first day of school, his first day in 7th grade, I asked him one, seemingly simple question. "How was school today?" I cannot begin to describe all of the emotions packed into that one question. Time seemed to hold its breath as the world waited for Dylan to answer. His response to me that afternoon was, "Mom, it was GREAT!" For the first time in almost two years, I remember thinking to myself; it’s going to be all right. He is going to be all right. And he is all right - better than all right because of Bridges Middle School, and the incredible staff members.
Last week, Bridges Middle School held one of their Integration Evenings for parents to see what the students were doing. As I walked into the auditorium, I was struck, physically, by the thought that we would not be here next year; that Dylan would graduate in June and go onto another place and we would no longer be a part of this incredible community that is Bridges Middle School. Quite honestly, I am not ready for that even if Dylan is. Since coming to Bridges Middle School, I have had no misgivings about Dylan's safety - physical or emotional. I know that each and every staff member loves these children, their students and that they will take care of them, nurture them, keep them safe all the while offering them incredible academic and life lessons. Every moment at Bridges is a teaching moment, and I think the kids do a fair amount of teaching of themselves, their friends and even the staff members. There is no cruelty; there is no meanness, no competition to see who can belittle whom - there is kindness, there is caring, there is respect.
At the Integration Evening, Dylan kicked off the evening, as only Dylan can by being his silly, spontaneous, wonderful self. Sitting and watching him, still reeling from the realization that he would not be here next year, I watched Dylan be who he is - who Doug and I always thought he could be, if given the chance, if supported and nurtured.
Bridges Middle School saved Dylan's life - of that I have no doubt. But even more than that, they made it possible for Dylan to blossom into the Dylan I always knew was inside, even in the darkest of days. He is here with us, and he is who he is supposed to be - outgoing, confident, funny, more than a little silly, and yes a bit quirky, but bright, caring sensitive, aware and happy. Dylan is happy - with life and with himself. Bridges saved Dylan, it as simple and as utterly amazing and wonderful as that.
With my eternal gratitude to the entire staff and to Providence Youth Services for creating such a wonderful, special place, thank you.
Patricia Day TenEyck
Gately Academy is now Bridges Middle School.