#EmbraceTheChallenge: Bridge Academy West 


Bridge Academy West

Meet 6th & 7th grade Social Studies teacher, Chad Okamoto

Bridge Academy West is a charter middle school in Detroit that primarily serves students in Detroit and Hamtramck. The school is authorized by Ferris State University and managed by Global Educational Excellence. Bridge Academy West serves a largely Arab-American school community, with most students coming from Yemeni and Bengali backgrounds. The school offers a rigorous educational program that includes teaching Arabic. Check out how they've adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure students get meaningful instruction, at a distance.

Going the distance to help kids laugh and learn amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

Nestled in the Hamtramck community of Detroit, Bridge Academy West serves a highly unique population - nearly 99% of their student body identifies as Muslim, and is comprised mainly of first and second generation immigrants, largely from the Yemeni and Bengali communities. For these immigrants, Bridge offers the kind of cultural support that simply can't be found elsewhere; separating students by gender in classes, lunch breaks, etc., and even staffing classrooms with paraprofessionals who speak Arabic or Bengali to assist the school's many English Language Learner students, who comprise 20-30% of the student body. These critical steps help the school not only serve students in the classroom, but also create communication channels with family members so they can help address needs at home.

6th and 7th grade Social Studies teacher, Chad Okamoto, is one of the passionate educators on the Bridge team. When the pandemic struck, he and the other educators immediately worked to get technology to every child. As a Title 1 school, they already had 1:1 Chromebooks, it was simply a matter of distributing materials, and beginning the trial and error period of "what works" for the kids. 

Even though my students are only 12 and 13 years old, they know what they like and don't like in terms of learning. I spent a lot of time testing out different strategies, doing long virtual meetings, short virtual meetings, no meetings and a recorded lecture, etc. I've mixed in jokes and stories. Ultimately every learner is different - and it's been fascinating to see who is thriving and who is struggling under these new conditions. My goal as their teacher has been to really level that education equity, so I can support the ones who need it and challenge the ones who are getting it.

- Chad Okamoto, Bridge Academy West teacher

As Chad continued to uncover challenges and wins of distance learning, he began incorporating in some fun Youtube videos to help students laugh and get through the pandemic together. With a reputation as the "goofball teacher" in school, who isn't afraid to make dress up as Post Malone for Halloween and make students giggle, Chad set out to create videos that got kids' attention - competing with the many distractions that were eating up their time, including social media, video games, family life, and more. He wasn't afraid to be awkward, and the kids LOVED it. 

For a lot of our students who have a difficult home life, from poverty, cramped living spaces, whatever the reason might be, school is their escape - and right now that escape is gone. My goal with the Youtube videos was to give them that safe space to laugh and joke and enjoy life - to find an escape. And that has been awesome. 

- Chad Okamoto, Bridge Academy West teacher

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And while the video series might be fun and games, Chad and the Bridge educators have taken exceptional measures to ensure that students are not falling behind during this time. The expectations are simple: while distance learning presents a huge challenge in giving students an upward trajectory of growth, no student should be going backwards. But for some students, parents speak little to no English - some are working at the same education level as their child. So the Bridge team has stepped up. If a student can't be reached for days at a time, an educator will drive or walk to their home, knock on the door, and help them problem solve - whether the barrier is technology, classwork, internet access, etc. for Bridge students and families, this level of support is well-appreciated.

The educators really did their best and set up the materials very quickly for the students and my child. I very much enjoy the technology that has been implemented to support the learning because of how accessible it has been made. We have not had a personal connection with the teachers, but they often notify me about my son's academic skills and etc.
- Amgad, Bridge Academy West parent

More #EmbraceTheChallenge Stories

Check out our other featured MI charter schools who have creatively #embracedthechallenge to support students & families!

New Branches Charter Academy
Covenant House Academy East
Waterford Montessori Academy
JKL Bahweting Anishnabe PSA
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