ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Students in Waimea Middle School's Bridges program mimic arm motions on a chart while bouncing on rebounders. Reading the chart gives practice with symbols; the rebounders force them to concentrate. CLICK FOR LARGE
An unusual learning program is winning converts in Waimea
WAIMEA, Hawaii » David Cowan, 11, bounced on a minitrampoline "rebounder," reading a wall chart telling him how to move his arms, trying to do the opposite of what the chart showed.
Cowan was demonstrating learning improvement techniques earlier this month at an open house for the Bridges Learning System program at Waimea Middle School on the Big Island.
Doing the opposite of what the chart showed to demonstrate his mastery wasn't easy for David. He would normally need six months of training, but he'd had only 11 weeks.
Like some 60 other students at the school, David is in Bridges because the promise is great. He should show academic progress by the end of the year, but for some the progress comes much faster.
One boy's reading score jumped 400 points in just 11 weeks, Bridges teacher Jim Melody said. Another improved 200 points.
But people ask Diane Hochstein, chief executive of North Carolina-based Bridges, "What does a rebounder have to do with education?"
Hochstein said that the No. 1 complaint teachers have about students is that they do not concentrate. On a rebounder, if students do not concentrate, they get instant feedback about it in their bodies, Hochstein said in an interview at the school.
To explain further, Hochstein tells the story of her daughter Kerri, who announced she was never going to school again because other kids made fun of her for not being able to read in the fourth grade.
A developmental optometrist discovered the field of vision of one of Kerri's eyes was crossing over the field of the other eye.
"It's like watching two television shows at the same time," Hochstein said.
Using exercises from the optometrist, Kerri caught up in 1 1/2 years. Today, at 33, she works for Bridges.
Kerri inspired her mother to do five years of research into techniques to correct learning problems.
Bridges also includes workbooks and computers. The program, in existence since 1993, is used in about 300 schools across the country, Hochstein said. However, she added, "It's a hard sell."
Chief operating officer Carol Whileyman explained there is a "buffet" of programs for schools to choose from. Skeptical teachers have heard before how wonderful each of them will be. Whileyman said she was a "naysayer" until she saw the success of Bridges.
Cost can be an issue. Bridges costs Waimea Middle about $40,000 the first year and about $6,000 each year afterward. Costs vary depending on the size of the school, Hochstein said.
In comparison, Principal Pat Rice noted that a reading program bought from another company cost $160,000.
Waimea Middle student Hunter Daniels, 11, is sold on the Bridges program.
Hunter scored extremely high on "evaluation," the ability to put ideas together. His career goal reflects that.
"I want to be a brain surgeon to help Parkinson's and Tourette syndrome patients," he said.
But he also showed memory and vision problems. "I learn by hearing. I thought I was average (in vision)," he said. Now he is doing exercises such as tracking a tossed beanbag with his eyes. That exercise teaches a child's eyes to follow it, just as they have to follow print on a page. Similarly, following arm symbols on a wall chart helps children learn how to follow words on a page.
Hunter said he is no longer being teased by other kids. He told Hochstein, "I think this program is a miracle."