How do you do you make 350 new, sometimes awkward, almost always nervous high school freshmen feel at home on the first day of school? Try the balloon game! The girls line up on one side, the boys on the other and then they hug a balloon between them until it pops. Talk about a bonding experience! Last Monday, the first day of school at Mercer Island High School, Jamie Prescott, English and Journalism teacher, girls’ basketball coach and now Bridges co-leader with Chris Twombley, led the nervous freshman and her team of # Bridges leaders in this game and many others for almost 2 solid hours. We couldn’t catch up with Jamie to ask her where she finds the energy to engage this many students for so long, but watching her in action was enough evidence to support the fact that with enough enthusiasm, you can do anything.
Twombley and Prescott were leading what has become a tradition at MIHS—
Bridges Freshman Orientation. Bridges, which stands for “Building Relationships in Diverse Groups to Empower Students” was started in 200? As the Advisory Program modeled after “Link Crew” a national student advisory program used in high schools throughout the country. Chris Twombley, English teacher and assistant X-Country coach at the school took over the leadership of the program from founder and former MIHS Biology teacher Mary Margaret Welch two years ago. “Bridges came at a time when the whole country was reeling from the shock of Columbine and violence in American high schools. Here, it was also our firm belief that much of the high school experience is about acceptance, friendship and building confidence. We were looking for ways to connect with students outside the classroom and our traditional student groups. We want all students to feel at home at MIHS.”
Every Friday morning, students of all ages gather in their Bridges groups to engage in activities planned by their leaders who have undergone over # hours of training during the summer and on weekends during the school year. According to Heather Mohler, Bridges leader who graduated from the high school last year, “I learned a a lot about what it takes to be a leader, and I really enjoyed the chance to get to know kids from all the different grades. I think Bridges has made the high school a much closer community. It’s a good thing.”
Mercer Island High School is known as one of the top public high schools in the state – students excel in the classroom, score high on state and college board tests, and attend top colleges and universities. And now, thanks to programs like Bridges and outstanding teachers and mentors like Jamie Prescott and Chris Twombley, MIHS is teaching students to care.