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About Us

Our History

The Bridge School - A Rich History and Promising Future

When The Bridge School was founded in 1986, no one could have imagined that this organization would evolve from a small educational program serving local children with severe physical and speech impairments to an internationally recognized leader in the field of augmentative and alternative communication. Milestones that mark the growth of this organization can provide insight into its growth and its influence in education.

1985: Parents and a Professional Join Forces to Establish New School

In 1985, finding no school that met the needs of their children, Pegi Young and Jim Forderer, in conjunction with Dr. Marilyn Buzolich, a speech and language pathologist, took a bold step that would impact the lives of children in the San Francisco Bay area. They proposed a school dedicated to providing an environment where children with complex communication needs could learn, grow and thrive while developing the specific skills and abilities each child is likely to need to be successful as adults and to realize a high quality of life.

1986: First Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert Held

Many dreams are thwarted due to a lack of funds, but this group did not let this deter them and on October 13, 1986, a concert with Neil Young and his friends raised the necessary money to start The Bridge School.

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1987: The Bridge School Opens its Doors

The Bridge School founders pulled together a strong professional team and developed an intervention model that featured teachers, speech and language pathologists and instructional assistants working collaboratively to teach children with severe physical and speech impairments how to communicate effectively.

The school was located in an elementary school in Hillsborough, CA. From the outset, the goal was to return the children to their home school districts as soon as it was appropriate. This location was critical to achieving that purpose as the students had opportunities to interact with their typically developing peers and the teachers had access to the standard curriculum and other classroom teachers.

1991: Bridge School Celebrates First Graduate and Establishes Transition Program

Thanh Diep became The Bridge School’s first graduate. She returned to her home school district to enter a 6th grade class at Horace Mann Middle School in San Francisco. When Thanh returned to her home school district, it was obvious that a support structure needed to be in place to ensure her successful transition. The Transition Program was established to provide resources and training to build competence among the various professionals working with Bridge graduates and to provide support for their families as they advance through the educational system. This innovative program set the standard for support for children with special needs in the general education environment.

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1992: The Bridge School Seeks to Replicate Educational Model Through Outreach Efforts

Funding from a generous donor made it possible for professionals from the Bridge to work with two local school districts, Oakland and Berkeley, to establish programs incorporating the principles and organizational structure of The Bridge School. The Technology for Augmentative Communication and Learning Enhancement (T.A.C.L.E.) program in Oakland and Project REACH (Resources for Education and Augmentative Communication enHancement) in Berkeley were collaborative programs designed to help school staff more effectively apply augmentative communication and assistive technology as well as develop educational strategies for students. The T.A.C.L.E. Program has continued to grow and now supports children with severe speech and physical impairments from kindergarten through 12th grade.

1994: Outreach Sponsors Building Bridges Camp and Training Institute

In an effort to impact more children who relied on augmentative and alternative communication and to train adults who were interested in working with this population, the Outreach program held its first camp and training institute. Forty lucky children with severe speech and physical impairments from around the country joined forty adults interested in learning effective teaching strategies with this population in a week-long overnight camping experience.

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1995: The Bridge School Builds a Permanent Home

Eight years of success made the future look bright and promising for The Bridge School and in 1995, the decision was made to construct a permanent building. In collaboration with the Hillsborough City School District, the Board of Directors approved funding for a facility to be built on the campus of North Elementary School in Hillsborough. This partnership has enhanced the lives of everyone involved. The students and teachers at North Elementary School have become an integral part of the education program at The Bridge School. Bridge students are included in the classes at North giving staff an opportunity to determine what communication and education strategies work successfully in that environment, what modifications are necessary for students to participate, and how transition will support the students once they return to their home school district.

1996: The Bridge School Moves onto the Web

A primary mission of The Bridge School was to impact the global community and expand our outreach efforts beyond the confines of our physical environment. The Internet has provided an excellent tool to disseminate information worldwide to individuals who seek to improve the lives of others through the use of assistive technology and augmentative and alternative communication. The Web site was published in 1996 and continues to evolve.

1998: First International Outreach Touches Lives in India

In 1997, a Teacher in Residence program was initiated to focus on providing support to nations in which the use of augmentative and alternative communication technology was in its infancy. Usha Dalvi from New Delhi was the first recipient of the Teacher in Residence award in 1998-99. Since its inception, the Teacher in Residence program has served Ala Smychek from Poland, Sarah Yong from Singapore, Gabriela Berlanga from Mexico City and Veronica Gavu from Cape Town, South Africa.

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2001: Research Program Established to Document and Disseminate Program Effectiveness

It is important to document effective practices and in 2001, a research program was established. This program uses objective measures to determine long and short term impact of our interventions by working collaboratively with Education, Transition staff and families to document student progress and to gather relevant information about teaching strategies, communication interventions and The Bridge School environment. The data we collect informs our teaching and allows us to disseminate effective practices to the world at large. This data has been shared at numerous conferences and in publications over the past five years.

2002: The Bridge School Welcomes Three-Year Olds

Early intervention is critical with children in developing language and communication. In 2002, The Bridge School opened its doors to three-year olds. Nicole and Harold divided their days between The Bridge School and the Hillsborough preschool program at North Elementary School. In 2003, Colin and Brian joined this young group.

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2004: Major Focus Placed on Parent Education

The greatest allies in education are the parents of the children being served. The Bridge School formalized our parent education efforts through the establishment of a coordinated training program in 2004. This program supports the parents’ role in advocating for their children.

2005: The Bridge School Hosts First AAC By the Bay Conference

Bridging research, best practice and families was the theme of the first AAC By the Bay conference. This conference brought professionals from throughout the United States, Mexico and Europe together to share information on assessment, literacy, transition and families.

2005: First Bridge School Graduate Receives University Degree

In May 2005, The Bridge School celebrated with Thanh Diep as she graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in Liberal Studies.

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2006: The Bridge School Celebrates the 20th Annual Benefit Concert and the 1st Heart of Gold Gala

The 20th Annual Benefit Concert was a star-studded event with Neil Young bringing together Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Brian Wilson, Foo Fighters, Trent Reznor, Death Cab for Cutie, Gillian Welch and Devendra Banhart. One week later, The Bridge School hosted its first “Heart of Gold” Gala with Sir Elton John providing an evening to remember.

2007: Second AAC By the Bay Conference

The success of the first conference prompted a repeat performance. In September 2007, the second AAC By the Bay conference focused on AAC, Literacy and the Impact of Visual Impairments on Education and Communication.

The Future: Changing Lives

The Bridge School has evolved from the initial vision of three individuals to the reality of a program that has impacted the lives of children and families throughout the world. Through the generous support of the community at large and effective collaboration and cooperation with others, The Bridge School is achieving its mission.

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