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The Bridge 4.0
Monday September 14, 2020 Hello community! I sit typing this version of The Bridge underneath a tree. Across is a group of socially distanced students & staff arguing about the merits of bananas, Batman, and Ironman, over our lunchtime break. We are tired, hot and so excited to see this vision come to fruition: outdoor school at our new home shared with The Shambhala Center in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This first week has brought with it adjustment: learning the sun's patterns so we can migrate to shade; hydrating appropriately; appreciating ants crawling over our feet; finding the best way to speak with volume over lawn mowers and air conditioners. While this is not part of our stated curriculum, it quietly puts into practice the broader ethos we hold for the school, to decenter what learning looks like, where it can occur, and become attuned to the Earth as a whole. Welcome to our 2020-2021 school year! Internship dreams have been explored, advisor groups have been created (with a slight competitive edge: a kindness competition), and the time capsule for 2020 has been opened (to be sealed on Monday). We had virtual ball tosses at our morning and closing circles, a coffee cup "mugging" ceremony (wherein each student received their own mug for the duration of the year), cooked a meal over the fire with Fitzhugh Shaw while talking about community through food, and our first meditation with Adam Lobel. Human Centered Design stays central to our mission, as we asked students to identify and ideate their learning environment and what shifts we can make this year. Other classes we've begun include Utopia in Literature & History, Stories of Culture, and Interdependence: Sustainable Cities. Students also met for their language and math placement and we are hurriedly collaborating with other schools to meet the overwhelming student desire to learn ASL. This year's group is amazing. We've also used a lot of hand sanitizer. News & Events: If you are a long-term community member, you may notice a tonal shift in the newsletter and social media. As the new Director of Community Engagement I'll be updating you monthly on our happenings, student work and community events. Never to fear! Randy will have an impermeable spot in The Bridge; I'll just be lightening his load as Head of School (Piano Mover, Curriculum Designer, Head of Fundraiser, Boat School Captain, etc). In addition I'll be serving as our quarantine contact. Please direct all questions, concerns or other COVID-related discussions (such as when to return to school, alerting us of positive symptoms, etc.) to firstname.lastname@example.org or 732.687.6092. I have attached our guidelines and community agreements, for any who might have missed the All Community Meeting or earlier email. Stay tuned for an email announcing the date of our Family/Community meeting! We decided to shift back a week to get our bearings a little more. As we adjust to outdoor school we have a few asks of our community: If anyone can help us move a few last things out of our old space we would greatly appreciate the help. We need to be out by the 30th and are getting close! Do you have an outdoor (weatherproof) speaker, a nice megaphone, a mic, or a tent sitting around, collecting dust? We would love to borrow those for the time being as we trial different methods of outdoor school! A note from Randy: The Bridge was one of the first ways City of Bridges began to stretch its wings. The first issue was sent out in the late summer of 2017 before we had a building, before we had any educators and most importantly, before we had any students. The start to this school year was not what we expected, but this school and this community was designed to deal with the unexpected, to find solutions to problems and help young people to chart their paths in life. It seems to me that fostering a learning community in these challenging times is in many ways an ideal opportunity for high school age people to explore a problem and strive to design solutions. I want to personally thank the returning students for being so welcoming this week and I want to thank the new students for being so amazing. Thank you also to all of the parents, supporters and community members who have helped this school thrive. (And of course Justin and Jess for being there every day to make the magic happen.) I am so excited about this school year and for all the learning and laughter that will surround this community. Thank you and be well, Jess, Randy & Justin
The Bridge 4.1
Thursday November 5, 2020 Hello friends of City of Bridges! We've officially gotten Block II underway, shepherding in new classes (Economics, Media, Law and Justice, Chemical Reactions, Financial Literacy) and a panorama of trees with falling leaves, surrounding our whiteboards. It's been a beautiful transition to fall here in our community space, witnessing the leaves changing and admiring them (or rippling them up) during our afternoon appreciations. We're officially 1/6th of the way done with the school year. Other stats: 3 rainy days 2 extra-special days (one for the Election; one for Tropical Storm Zeta) Less than half of a tree used for our daily fires. News and Updates: Most of our students have started their internships, spreading out around the city to places like Helvak (a vegan owned & operated local clothing business), a fire station, Sprezzatura (a local Italian restaurant); shadowing a professional photographer, ceramicist or writer (Very Awful Pictures, Next PGH, PGH Post Gazette); or working at design firms, businesses and nonprofits (Temper & Grit, BMW, Sarah's Pets and Plants, Planned Parenthood). At the tail end of Block I we had our first block project presentations, wherein students told us about their ideal utopias, unpacked what 'culture' means to them, explored systems, and taught us about how one item of food holds power. We then celebrated with our first expedition week of the year. On expedition weeks, the whole school comes together to explore one topic; this fall we dove into herbalism and agriculture. Our week consisted of an Herbalism 101 class from a practicing herbalist (students were big fans of sampling tinctures), dyeing shirts with natural dyes, making comfrey salve, eating and learning about tumeric from a local chef (Jay of Popping Mustard Seeds), and spending two days at Mildred's Daughters Urban Farm. There we made personal tea blends, planted garlic, and played with goats. It was a beautiful time establishing a connection both with the land and our local community...which dovetailed beautifully with our larger values and goals. A note from Randy: I am writing this note while our country is still waiting for the final results of Tuesday's national election. The current projections are that approximately 65% of eligible voters participated this year, either in person or through mail-in ballots. According to The Washington Post, if this percentage proves to be true, it will be the highest voter participation since 1900. The vast majority of City of Bridges students are not old enough to vote in this election, but I am so proud of their engagement with and knowledge about the processes and civic responsibility of voting. This week we had students volunteering at polls with their parents or guardians, making infographics about provisional ballots (which were widely shared), and engaging in a teach in about elections, access and justice. I am so proud that our students are learning about the ways in which they can engage in the democratic processes of this country. I have often wondered what schools would look like if the metric by which they are measured was not standardized test scores, but by the civic participation of their graduates. I am confident that if this group of City of Bridges students were measured in such a way, their scores would all be advanced. I want to thank you all for supporting a high school where engaged citizenship is more than just a spoken value, it is also a practice in action. Looking forward: Winter: We are excited for what the winter holds, and planning to flex the agility our small school size allows. We have plans to continue outdoor school until December, and then transition to micro-pods for the winter, inspired by local sister schools. We're also drawing inspiration from our community members who are offering their tents, professional outdoor experience, and time to help our Warm Team keep us safe, fully hot cocoa-fied, and warm as the temperatures chill. We are also emphasizing that same solidarity as a school, encouraging mental health, community building and political empowerment as we, nationally, stand by to see the election results. Support Us! We are truly appreciative for our community that makes this small, progressive, caring school possible-- where we can explore herbalism, put wellness at the forefront when realities of the world demand it, and get out students out into the community with professional practitioners to explore their passions. If you are not yet already, we'd love for you to subscribe to our Patreon where you can get more frequent updates, meet our students, and (coming soon) see some of our lessons/curricula. Mark your calendars! We also ask you to please reserve December 12th on our calendar. We'll be kicking off our Annual Fund Drive on the heels of the Day of Giving, with the first set of workshops from our City of Bridges Folk School. For those who have been supporting us since the beginning, you will remember that this is an essential aspect of City of Bridges High School...a larger community learning-space. We're thrilled to finally get this in motion and hope to see you there! Stay tuned for details. Till next time...thank you and be well, Jess, Justin & Randy
The Bridge 4.2
Tuesday December 15, 2020 Hello friends of City of Bridges! Strangely, I am writing this edition of the newsletter indoors, finishing out the virtual day while Randy & Justin fold tarps over at the school. With a 30 degree difference in temperature, we are rounding out 1/3rd of the school year in two places: inside our heated homes and around our well-used fire pit. This edition of The Bridge comes to you during the last days of the first Trimester. Last Friday we celebrated the end of our first round of internships and two successful blocks of outdoor/virtual schooling. Yesterday, we kicked off the second of three expedition weeks we'll hold this academic year. We can't be more excited to delve into a new topic, exploring the history and production of zines (pronounced 'zeens'), before we relax into a two week winter break. We've also been busy at the strategic planning level, creating systems for parent involvement, and different Board committees to explore alternative economic systems, enrollment, diversity, equity and inclusion, and future homes, for the school. We are incredibly heartened by the resilience that our students have shown, in not only tolerating, but embracing the cold weather. They've brought joy to school, alongside their sleeping bags, tents and snowballs...and quite honestly, hope for the future. We joked about how we are inspired by the outdoor schooling that took place during the 1918 pandemic, and have been amazed to see its success in these tech-heavy, modern times. This ethos has also grounded our school in our mission to be connected to real-world learning. This December in particular, we moved from recreating a classroom outside, to embracing our surroundings as the classroom itself: be it walking to the park while reviewing Economics or sharing our Personal Learning Plans around the firepit. In this sense, we are grateful for how the pandemic has pushed us, beyond our learned constraints. Many of our students have also chosen to work with us to reformat what 'online' school can be. We are exceptionally proud of them for creating a school day that is unique for each and every one of them. We've learned that virtual school operates best separately from snow school, yet we've always held a morning meeting to maintain community. Alongside a few traditional classes, virtual students have been spending extra time at their family's farm, working on their fashion portfolio, and digitizing their art pieces. While we are not an online school at our core, we are grateful to lean into this path-oriented direction, and make joyful school accessible from the comfort of our students' homes, as well. A note from Randy: The short days and cold weather this time of year provides us with an opportunity to slow down and reflect on everything that we have accomplished this year, and to look forward to what the new year will bring. 2020 has been an unexpected, challenging and wonderful year for City of Bridges. This time last year COVID-19 was not yet in the news and our vision for 2020 was vastly different than the reality that came. We came together in March to imagine a personalized and fruitful virtual school, we came together in the summer to move our school outside, we came together in September to welcome new community members and we are coming together now to again envision the future. I am so proud of everyone who is a part of the City of Bridges family; 2020 has been a year unlike any other and I am so excited to see what 2021 brings for City of Bridges and for everyone who is part of this community. I hope you all have a wonderful break and a Happy New Year. Looking Forward: As we look towards the winter, we are excitedly brainstorming our micropod projects. Borrowing from expedition week, we will be dividing the school into 3 pods: two in-person and one virtual. Each pod will spend two months working on an interdisciplinary student-driven collaborative project. Thus far we're looking at a business plan for a COB food truck and a play about a tiny town. Stay tuned for the third mystery project, to be revealed in the next newsletter! As the holidays near, we want to wish our greater community a time of rest, joy, and peace. This has been an inexplicably unique academic year and we know the holidays will be equally memorable for us all, as well. Thank you for being a part of our community, and for the ways you celebrate with us as we grow. Be well! Till next year, Jess, Randy & Justin
The Bridge 4.3
Monday January 25, 2021 Hello friends of City of Bridges!
We hope you made it to 2021 in one piece, having enjoyed a holiday season to remember.
I am writing this edition of the newsletter in between classes for my micropod, one of three that are currently running. The past few weeks have been momentous, from insurrection, to presidential inauguration, to a completely new school routine. Randy, Justin and I have settled into a groove with our students, each micropod it's own world. As one of our students so cleverly noted during last week's Board meeting, our solution to growth, maintaining our ethics and small size, lies in this not-dissimilar concept of school pods.
This winter, we have split the school into three different micropods, operating out of three different locations. Each pod is fairly autonomous in how the day is structured and what the students are working on. Randy's pod is training to become entrepreneurs, with students working on personal projects and a communal project: City of Bridge's very own breakfast burrito food truck. Justin's pod is in the process of screenwriting, costume designing, and producing a movie. My pod is exploring photography and Photovoice, which will culminate in a Zoom gallery show at the end of the block! Stay tuned for news of our food truck opening, movie premiere, and gallery show in the coming months.
Throughout this first micropod month, we've been learning an incredible amount about ourselves, our students, and school's potential. In one pod students have seized the opportunity to create clubs; in another, students are requesting one-on-one virtual sessions for Math class at 7am. The flexibility and customization these smaller group sizes allow reminds us of our commitment to individualized learning and the joy of working so closely with our students.
In our non-teaching hours, we've added two wonderful folks to our Board of Directors! Anneliese Martinez and Neil Brown have now officially come aboard, and joined one of our three Board committees, focusing on Economic Systems (envisioning alternative funding systems); Creative Spaces (envisioning City of Bridges' permanent home); and Enrollment (focused on diversity, equity and inclusion). These committees are open to the broader community and we ask you to please consider joining! The more our community is engaged, the larger strides we can take in our movement forward.
Speaking of movement: we ask for all community members to please take two minutes to fill out this survey of community skills and capacity. Thank you! A note from Randy:
The winter months are a time for reflection; the shorter days and the colder temperatures encourage us to pause and look back on what we have accomplished and to envision what might come in the future. This year has been remarkable for the City of Bridges community. We were presented with the challenge of living into our values and beliefs about school in the middle of a global pandemic that shifted all of the systems and structures of our society. In the coming months, we will be writing to you about our visions for the future, our excitement about what will come next and our joy in continuing to grow this amazing community. Right now, I want to take and thank all of you; students, family members, Board Members, supporters, community members and our amazing staff for making the first part of this school year such a success.
By the time we write the next newsletter, we'll be ending our second month of micropods, and donning our coats to return to outdoor school once again. All educators remark on how the school year disappears after the holidays....but it feels especially poignant with these strange COVID milestones. We appreciate you being along with us, on the journey.
Jess, Randy & Justin
Envisioning the Fall...as of the End of July
Hello! I know that it is rather cliché at this point, but this summer has not been like any other summer that I have experienced. As July draws to an end, uncertainty continues to be the most apt description of the world of education and schooling, in this region and across the country. Here in southwestern Pennsylvania, school districts are sharing their return to school plans as the infection rates, as of this letter, remain steady after rising in a second wave earlier in the summer. Today, I am writing to share our values and plans, as they currently stand. Our values will not change and our plans will always be informed by them. It is our hope that due to our small size, agility and flexibility we will be able to enact our current models for learning this fall, and we will continue to work with those assumptions in place. First and foremost, here is what we value: 1. We believe that school in the 2020-2021 school year will change, shift and at times be uncertain and we believe that our agility will help us to ride the rapids of change. 2. We believe that the safety of our students, staff, families, and community is essential to being a humane organization and we believe that our planning and small size will enable us to be as safe as is possible. 3. We believe that learning is joyful, interconnected, and relational and we believe that learning experiences should be all of these things regardless of format. 4. We believe face-to-face learning carries specific benefits that are important to a student's education experience and We believe that striving to maximize face to face time is a cornerstone of our work. 5. We believe that each person and family will have different needs and we believe it is our responsibility as a caring community to meet the needs of all of our community members. City of Bridges is a mission and values-driven community and we exist to be flexible, responsive, and personalized in our approach. We must always be ready to reflect on our practice and adjust in order to ensure that we are being true to our values. Considering the current circumstances here are the plans as of the end of July. The first day of school will be on Tuesday, September 8th. As many of you know, City of Bridges made the decision to relocate to the Highland Park neighborhood for the 2020-2021 school year. We are moving into a space that allows us to spend the majority of the fall outside while also having ample well-ventilated indoor space. This space allows us to maintain our programming while being able to enact our COVID-19 safety plan. We continue to enact safety systems (temperature checks, cleaning protocols, bathroom procedures, etc.) and will continue to do so in response to shifts and changes in recommendations from the CDC, Pennsylvania Department of Education, and the Allegheny County Health Department. As a result of our space, our small size, and our dedicated staff and community it is our intention to return to school physically on the 8th of September. We are enacting the following procedures as elements of our COVID-19 plan in order to stay in alignment with our values. 1. The majority of our school day will be outside and students and staff will be physically distant from each other at all times. 2. When indoors, all students and staff will wear masks and rigid physical distance and cleaning protocols will be followed. 3. All students and staff will have a wellness check (temperature and symptoms) upon arrival each day. 4. Enrollment will be capped at 25 total students for the 2020-2021 school year. 5. Students will be on campus Monday-Thursday. Fridays will be reserved for project work, internships and independent studies. In addition to these measures, we have also devised a hybrid model and a virtual model for any families or students who would prefer those options. These models will also allow us to shift more seamlessly to a virtual format if necessary at any point in the school year. We are also making some subtle but important changes to our curriculum to meet each student’s needs. We have shifted the calendar to have three trimesters divided into two sections each. This will result in more time for each block, project, or experience so that we can adjust to changing circumstances with a minimum of lost learning time. This summer has also given us the opportunity to create a database of our competencies, which will be ready by the start of school. This database will enable students to demonstrate their learning in many different ways, including but not limited to, a class, a project, an independent study, an internship, or other learning experiences. Regardless of the current circumstances, students will be able to gain knowledge, skills, and understanding and demonstrate their learning. I am so grateful and honored to be a part of this community. I know that the water is still murky and likely will be even after the school year begins, but if we continue to live our values and treat each other with the respect and love that are the foundation of this community, I am confident that we will navigate these waters with grace. As always, thank you for your support and your inspiration. Be Well, Randy
The Bridge 4.4
The Bridge June 2021 Hello! The school year has come to an end and it gives me a minute to reflect on all that we accomplished this year and to look forward to what the coming years will bring to the City of Bridges community. Looking Back The 2020-2021 school year was a remarkable example of finding innovative solutions to unforeseen challenges. A quick reminder, City of Bridges High School (along with every school in the state of Pennsylvania) became a virtual school, on Friday the 13th, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last spring, we ran a personalized remote school and although we were able to provide meaningful and purposeful learning, we knew that we needed to be together this year. So…we moved outside. If you have ever asked yourself, can you run a learner centered, progressive high school outside in Pittsburgh for the majority of the school year? I can tell you from experience that the answer is YES. The students, faculty, families and community members came together to demonstrate that when you are open to problem solving, critical thinking and creative solutions you can find solutions to situations which arise unexpectedly. Thank you to everyone who was a part of the City of Bridges community this year. Sauerkraut Balls and Amazing Veggie Burgers A number of weeks ago, I offered to help out a friend as he re-imagined and re-opened his amazing restaurant, Butterjoint, here in Pittsburgh. He took me up on that offer and as a result I spent a number of evenings and nights back in the kitchen. I had worked in kitchens during college and graduate school, but long ago hung up my chef’s knife and replaced it with a pencil. I arrived in the kitchen on a Thursday, a little while before service began and one of the kitchen staff walked me through the menu items that I would be responsible for that evening. Due to my prior understanding, I was able to add this new knowledge to a framework. Dinner service that evening was slow, so I was able to practically apply my new knowledge to a real situation in such a way that I was pushed to learn, but not overwhelmed. As one would expect, Friday night was significantly busier and I continued to grow and learn. By the time I reached my third service on Saturday, I was able to begin to reflect on my work, alter my systems, and refine my movements. After my shifts, I thought about this experience and its application to our work at City of Bridges. We too are trying to build foundations of understanding, upon which we build new knowledge, which we then apply to meaningful and purposeful tasks. We reflect on our work and strive to improve our learning. The cycle is simple to describe, but complex to enact. 1. We learn something new that builds on prior knowledge. 2. We apply that knowledge in an experience that is challenging, but not frustrating. 3. We reflect on that experience and on our learning. City of Bridges is striving every day to learn something new, to apply our new knowledge and then reflect on our learning. New Experiences! Newsletter Are you curious about some of the educational philosophy that is the foundation of the City of Bridges community? If so, I am going to be launching a newsletter that talks about educational philosophy and models and current events in education etc. This is a new endeavor and it will surely evolve in the coming weeks and months. Keep your eyes out for a sign-up link in the near future. Patreon The City of Bridges Patreon page has been quiet for a little while, but will soon have a lot of great content. Please consider becoming a patron of our work, you can join here. It is one of the most direct ways that you can support our community. The past year has been challenging and it is an honor to be part of a community that cares so deeply about each other. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, Thank You. With Gratitude and Appreciation, Randy