When classes resumed at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School from the summer break, students in the Bridges program found that their old one-room facility had been replaced by nine newly-remodeled classrooms.
The space, which previously housed the middle school administrative offices were remodeled to accommodate the needs of the students.
Added classrooms include a computer lab, art room, den, bedroom where students learn home skills and a kitchen for organizational practice. In addition to needed office space, another room was built specifically for physical and speech therapy which is a critical need for the students.
“We enhance their training in order to enhance their home life,” said Superintendent of Gulf County Schools Jim Norton of the new facilities.
In years prior, Bridges students had one small area with and a side bathroom that held a toilet and a cold water vanity.
In the update, each classroom activity received its own designated space and a new bathroom was added to meet the needs of the students and includes a washer and dryer, high-powered toilet, a shower and hot water.
“It’s one hundred times better,” said instructor, Diane O’Neal, who holds a master’s degree in Special Education with a focus on middle grade students.
The Bridges program assists special needs students in Gulf County from their first year of middle school until their 22nd birthday, teaching them social, home, and life skills and training them to be self-sufficient when it comes to chores and hygiene. This program strives to help students ultimately join the workforce.
Bridges puts extra focus on social lives and due to their location on the main high school campus; these 10 students attend assemblies and other class functions whenever possible.
“It’s made a tremendous impact on the attitudes of the kids,” said PSJHS Principal Jeremy Knapp.
“With the old facility, children didn’t want to come to school; now, they don’t want to go home,” added Norton.