Bridging the Transition to Middle School With Confidence

Starting a new school can be stressful for students. They may not know any of their new classmates, nor do they know where anything is. “Where is the restroom?” “What is the dress code?” “What are the teachers like?” There are a myriad of questions swirling amidst the excitement of a new adventure. To help with this transition, MICDS developed Summer Bridge, a series of one-week programs designed to help new students make friends, learn the campus and meet their teachers.

At a time when the School was considering a “bridge program,” two visionary philanthropists stepped forward to help MICDS launch the initiative. Being familiar with bridge programs that focused exclusively on the needs of students of color, Dustin Griffin ’61 and his wife, Gale, established the endowed Griffin Summer Bridge Program Fund in 2000, with the purpose of offering financial aid support to students of color who enrolled in the program.

Now, MICDS offers Summer Bridge to all families free of charge, as a universal experience for incoming Middle School students. More than 20 years later, the Griffin Summer Bridge Program Fund continues to play a critical role in ensuring that all students, regardless of need, have the opportunity to participate. One may question how a gift made over two decades ago can have such an enormous impact today.

The answer is simple: the MICDS endowment.

Donors establish named, endowed funds for a specific and strategic purpose with gifts of $50,000 or more ($25,000 or more for our 25th Reunion classes). Through a formal, written gift agreement, the School and the donor define the purpose and appropriate restrictions of the gift, and agree to the spending policy as determined by the Board of Trustees, which allows the corpus of the fund to grow at a steady rate despite the unpredictabilities of the investment markets. As the corpus grows, so too does the allowable draw off the fund, sustaining the impact of the initial gift in perpetuity. Today, MICDS holds over 230 endowed funds that generate over $3.5 million in revenue for the School and provide consistent, enduring resources that support the mission of the School.

Eighth grade science teacher Callie Bambenek has led the Middle School Summer Bridge program since the summer of 2015. “Being involved in helping new students shape their first impressions of MICDS is something I look forward to every summer,” she said. “The quick, natural transformation of students when they arrive on Monday to when they arrive on the last day is the highlight of the program. By Friday, they leave their cars confident in knowing the route to our Bridge location. They no longer walk alone but with new classmates and friends.”

Over five days, rising 5th-8th grade Rams enjoy a campus orientation, academic enrichment and lessons on organization and study skills.  They meet teachers who fill them in on life at MICDS by conducting game-show style group quizzes about the dress code and assembling scavenger hunts around the Middle School and athletic facilities. By the culmination of the program, new students feel right at home. “When I started at MICDS, I already knew my way around,” remembers Rachel Phillips ’24. “I already knew most of my classmates, even the ones who didn’t come from my previous school.”

The program also dedicates significant time to helping students socialize with the MICDS community and become familiar with the culture, school history and Middle School Honor Code. “We enjoyed that we got to meet new people along the way,” writes Henry Cordes ’24, Wyatt Dickherber ’24 and Grant Nicholson ’24 in their group Bridge reflection. “The teachers put us in different groups for different challenges, and we got to bond with everyone in our group.”

Bridge intentionally centers around the wishes of new MICDS students. At the end of the first day of each session, students share the top three things they hope to learn during Bridge.

“In the past four years, we have been able to accomplish every goal that students requested,” said Bambenek. Come the first day of school, our newest Middle Schoolers hit the ground running as they begin their MICDS careers with confidence and connection thanks to the generosity of the endowed Griffin Summer Bridge Program Fund!