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Bridge program supports mental health of Cape Cod high schoolers

Courtesy Katie Fauth
A Bridge classroom at Falmouth High School.

Two local schools are part of a statewide network helping students who are struggling with mental health.

Both Barnstable and Falmouth High School have Bridge programs that are part of the BRYT network.

Bridge provides academic and therapeutic support for students when they miss an extended amount of school for medical reasons, which are often related to mental health.

Falmouth High's Bridge program Clinical Coordinator Katie Fauth said those issues could involve anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. She explained students also enter Bridge for other reasons.

“Medical issues and concussions happen a lot at the high school level with sports, or surgeries that can mess up your life as a high school student and the normalcy you had before these things happened," she said.

Falmouth High School senior Hannah went through the program twice during her four years at FHS.

She entered Bridge at the start of her freshman year after being hospitalized for an eating disorder.

Hannah said it wasn’t just having support for classes that was helpful in the transition back to school, but that she could talk to a counselor during tough days.

“Having a licensed therapist to talk to about whatever was going on that day was incredibly helpful," she said.

Hannah was out of school again for some of her junior year. She was then able to slowly reintegrate back to her classes because of Bridge.

“It was just an incredible middle spot so I didn’t have to go immediately back into fourth quarter classes - end of the school year, end of the junior year, with testing and finals. I didn’t have to go into that alone."

Fauth said most students are back to their usual schedules within two to four weeks. Although some take the full 8 to 12 weeks Bridge offers.

Once students become Bridge alumni, they stay involved when new students enter the program by coming in for lunch or helping out with homework.

Fauth said alumni welcoming the new students is a crucial part of the program having a sense of community.

“That’s something the students can do that we can’t. It creates this peer-to-peer connection that every single person is welcome here," she said.

Massachusetts has over 140 schools in the same network as the Bridge programs on the Cape.

Fauth said it takes a lot of buy-in from schools and their districts for the program to work. She said Falmouth increased Bridge’s staffing when it saw an uptick in participating students after the first year of the pandemic.

Bridge has its own space within FHS, made up of two classrooms and an office.

Other local schools have visited Falmouth’s program to figure out how they could introduce it.

Hannah explained why she thought other schools on the Cape should adopt it, too.

“I don’t think I’d be graduating in the next two weeks if it wasn’t for Bridge. I genuinely don’t think I would have even completed high school.”

Brian Engles is an author, a Cape Cod local, and a producer for Morning Edition.