NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — On Wednesday, the Central Illinois Bridge Academy opened its doors for the second year. The school falls under the Regional Office of Education #17 and serves students with internalized mental health needs in DeWitt, Livingston, Logan, and McLean Counties.

“They may be struggling to get to school, they may have anxiety, they may have depression. They may or may not have had hospitalizations but they are struggling in a more internal way. Which means that they may not always be in class or they may have a harder time reaching out for support,” said Director Trisha Malott.

When the school opened its doors last year, it only served students in grades 7th through 12th. This year the school has added 6th grade students.

“We anticipate that more referrals will continue to come in as the school year really gets started,” said Malott. “We are happy to serve a younger grade this year.”

In Fall 2022, Bridge Academy started with 6 students and ended the year with 18. But throughout the school year, 33 students attended the academy. This year 15 students began classes at the alternative school.

“With part of our purpose being to help students transition back to their public schools, it is always a rolling number,” Malott said.

The school also has a full-time therapist and two case workers on staff. With significantly smaller classroom sizes, Bridge Academy better serves students who need some extra help to reach success.

“Our local districts do an amazing job of bringing in the support that they can. But they’re serving hundreds or thousands of students and the quiet internalizing students can sometimes get missed or require a significant amount of time,” said Malott.

Malott, who also serves as ROE 17’s behavioral health coordinator, said the goal is to serve as a bridge for students hence the name Bridge Academy.

“For many of our students our goal is to serve truly as a bridge, to help them navigate a difficult time of life, to help rebuild self-confidence, rebuild good habits related to school, help them navigate just the hard stuff that comes with life and to be able to return to their public school,” she said.

The school also offers parental support.

“We recognize that when you are a parent and you have a child in your home who is struggling that inherently impacts you as the parent,” said Malott. “So, we do what we can to support our parents as well; while leading with the lens on how it supports their student.”

Malott said on one hand she would like to see the student number consistently reach 30 and possibly expand to fifth grade. But she also would love for the need for the school to not be there.

“That means students are doing really well, that this level of support just isn’t needed and that’s inherently a good thing,” she said.