Bridgeport schools aim to become ‘a bridge to hope’

$13.8M addition to serve students as well as community

BRIDGEPORT — Superintendent Brent Ripley wants a 28,500-square-foot addition to Bridgeport High School to serve as a “bridge to hope” for students, staff and the larger community.

The Bridgeport Exempted Village School District will receive $13,834,879 as part of the Appalachian Community Innovation Centers Program, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission announced Wednesday. The program is providing “more than $88 million in funding to help nearly a dozen Appalachian school districts improve public health and enhance workforce development in their areas. … The goal of the program is to create full-service centers for public education, community health services, and career development in Appalachia Ohio.”

DeWine said the centers will be vital to the schools and their communities as the future unfolds.

“This is part of our continued commitment to Ohio’s traditionally underserved Appalachian communities,” said Governor DeWine. “No matter where you live in Ohio, everyone deserves access to high-quality education and healthcare resources, and these new centers will play an important role in the transformational change we’re beginning to see in this region.”

According to the project description provided by state officials, the Bridgeport project will increase “workforce development opportunities, add medical, dental and mental health services, create a community wellness lab, and provide a new dedicated computer lab for online learning.”

Ripley described it in more detail, saying there are three components to the addition and its offerings. He said it will include a multipurpose education and workforce development center, as well as health care facilities and a wellness component. He said many people played a role in obtaining the funding.

“We put a team together to plan our application and figure out how we can serve the Bridgeport communities,” Ripley said by phone on Wednesday. “We also looked at partnerships.”

Ripley said the district is finding ways to work with Ohio Means Jobs, the Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services. The expansion will provide career-technical education and science, technology, engineering, arts and math offerings. The district also plans to expand its College Credit Plus program with Belmont College.

Ripley stressed that area adults will benefit as well when the district offers workforce development services with partners such as the college and offers classes, training and health care in the evenings after school.

“If you look at the eastern side of the county, that’s where the deprivation is. It’s where the need is,” Ripley said. “You can catch a bus to the (Ohio Valley) mall, but not to the college, not to the Department of Job and Family Services.”

He said the overall goal is to improve skill sets and quality of life for residents of nearby communities, including Bridgeport, Martins Ferry, Shadyside and Bellaire.

“We want Bridgeport to be a one-stop shop,” he added, noting that one possibility includes working with the Brookside Fire Department to provide fire and emergency medical services training. “When people leave here, we want them to have a J-O-B.”

According to Ripley, the district aims to provide mental health supports via partnerships with Southeast Healthcare Services and OhioRise out of the Jefferson County Educational Resource Center. Health care partners may include Ohio Hills Health Centers, based in Barnesville, and the Belmont County Health Department. He said one goal is to connect people with resources they may not know are out there.

“It’s not just for our kids,” he noted.

Regarding wellness, Ripley said the district could implement programs such as SIlver Sneakers and may install a walking track for community members to use.

“We know there is a direct link between how we take care of our body and our longevity, happiness and outlook on life,” Ripley said, noting other possibilities include employing a private trainer and organizing activities for people of all different age groups.

He said the district may also partner with the Bridgeport Rotary Club to foster a sense of servanthood among students.

“We all serve one another, and we need to do that in a joyful way,” Ripley said. … And be willing to accept help when we need it.

“We want our kids when they graduate to have that sense of hope that they can do anything, do all things,” Ripley continued. “We plan to use every bit of that money to put a facility together that is so beneficial not just to our students, not just our staff, but to help our community to flourish.”

Ripley said the legacy of the people who secured the funding will be to facility that students want to visit and that people want to come to in order to get help. He termed it a “bridge to hope in the Ohio Valley.”

None of the money will go toward salaries, Ripley pointed out. He said school officials plan to use the entire grant toward constructing and supplying the facility. He said construction will start as soon as possible, with some time still to be spent on planning with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.

In addition to Ripley, the district’s curriculum director, board members and some community members participated in developing the plan.

“The power is in the team,” he added.

The funding provided by the state will cover expenses related to the construction of four new school-based community wellness, education, and career development centers in Mahoning, Jefferson, Noble, and Brown counties. Seven existing school district sites, including Bridgeport’s, will be renovated or expanded to provide services in Carroll, Lawrence, Gallia, Perry, Trumbull, and Clermont counties.

The new centers will be open to any Ohioan who needs assistance, including those living outside the school districts receiving the awards.

“This is another way we are investing in innovation, education, workforce, and communities in Appalachia, boosting economic growth for the region so that the people living there can have a better quality of life and brighter future,” Husted said.


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