In November of 2014, Borough President James S. Oddo began meeting with parents and advocates of students who suffer from dyslexia and other language-based disabilities.
Learning of the challenges that these children face daily, the BP pushed for the creation of a new public charter school, the first of its kind in New York State and one of only a few nationwide, designed to specifically meet the needs of students who suffer from literacy challenges.
After a five-year planning process, Bridge Preparatory Charter School will open its doors next month.
“Our journey in opening Bridge Preparatory Charter School has been a long and consistent effort as we heard from parents, advocates, and students and began to understand the frustration that many of our children were feeling—they were bright and intelligent, but could not seem to learn to read and process as easily as their peers,” Oddo said upon the Board of Regents’ approval of this effort. “It has been with these children and families in mind, and with an extremely dedicated team of people who knew we had to connect children to literacy in a manner in which they can learn, that we announce the New York State Board of Regents’ historic decision to approve Bridge Preparatory Charter School for opening in 2019. I am grateful that the Board of Regents has approved the charter and that struggling readers will soon have a dedicated school to help them learn and succeed.”
The school, which will open with 86 seats across grades 1 and 2, and will add a grade and new seats each year until it reaches its initial grade span of 1-5 by the 2022-2023 school year, serving approximately 242 students, will be located on the grounds of the Michael J. Petrides Educational Complex in Sunnyside.
Through a needs-based support structure, expanded learning opportunities, and creative educational experiences, the school will provide rigorous instruction based on a balanced, cross-cultural, and multisensory instructional approach to improve academic outcomes for all of its students.
In addition to the use of the Orton-Gillingham approach to literacy, the school will have several other unique features, including a daily emphasis on Social Emotional Learning (SEL), Executive Functioning skill development, an emphasis on physical fitness, and specially designed creative learning extensions for student learning.
Tim Castanza, an educator with years of experience in both special education and leadership and planning, has been tapped as its executive director.
“Bridge Prep ensures a better educational experience for so many students who are left behind in the traditional school structure and will provide students and families on Staten Island with a unique and specially designed learning environment that is truly designed with all students in mind,” Castanza explained. “Providing all students with a caring, supportive and inclusive school community is critical for the success of public education and is embedded in our core.”
Castanza says the school fills a gap that has been neglected for quite some time.
“Prior to the opening of Bridge Prep, Staten Island children with these types of disabilities have had to leave the borough,” Castanza said. “Yes, there were programs inside of larger schools but there was never a school dedicated to the needs of struggling readers. There are actually only seven schools like ours in the United States, so this is very exciting for the Staten Island community.”
The school features students from every zip code in the borough and its population is ethnically diverse, Castanza explained. Bridge Prep’s multi-sensory curriculum has a focus on music, art and theater and is designed to serve the needs of every single student. Castanza credits community leaders with bringing this project to fruition.
“The Borough President has been a true champion of this work,” he noted. “Without his support this school would not exist.”
And the specialized school is just one of Oddo’s education priorities. Over the past several years, the BP has initiated and supported programs like Readers are Leaders and Night of Mentors. He also launched an Education Advisory Council comprised of education leaders throughout the borough that informs him of the borough’s educational agenda. In June he named Marguerite Maria Rivas as Staten Island’s first Poet Laureate, a position that will help promote literacy on the Island. And he is continuing to earmark funds for health and wellness in our schools.
“As you no doubt know, we at Borough Hall are strong advocates for children getting more exercise,” Oddo recently noted on social media, announcing some of his office’s fiscal funding for 2020. “That’s why we are grateful to have the opportunity to allocate funds in this year’s budget for active space improvements, including upgrades to gyms, playgrounds and athletic fields.”
More than $6 million will be allocated for the maintenance/renovation of playgrounds, school yards, gyms and exercise spaces. Additional money is reserved for school’s infrastructure needs including renovations to cafeterias, bathrooms, classrooms and offices.
For more information about other education initiatives the Borough President is supporting, visit statenislandusa.com.