New CHS Program Improves Freshmen Integration

By Lura Jackson

 

Freshman year in high school has been increasingly recognized as the most critical year in determining how and if a student will succeed. Being in a new social and academic environment can be an extremely challenging transition for students, particularly if they are coming from a distance. That statement, though generalized, remains especially true at Calais High School, where many students are traveling from the surrounding areas. Last year at CHS, a new program known as BARR [Building Assets, Reducing Risks] was implemented to better reach the freshman student body, and it is already showing appreciable results.

BARR is a relatively new national program that is specifically designed to recognize the individuality of each student and build support networks around them. Rather than focusing on the top ten percent or the bottom ten percent of the class like some academic or behavioral intervention tools, every single student in the freshman class is enrolled as part of the program.

Each student in the freshman class is divided into one of four home rooms in the core subjects. The teachers in those subjects – specializing in math, English language arts, social studies, and science – become the advisors for that group of students for the entire year. 

Every week, team meetings are held between CHS Principal Mary Anne Spearin, the advisors, and the guidance counselor. “Those meetings are designed to review all freshman students,” Spearin explained. The group considers how well each student is doing, considering if they have made connections with other students and staff, what their strengths are, and what their challenges may be, both at school and outside of it. “We then use that information to have bigger conversations to help support our kids or further their development,” Spearin said.

One of the most important elements of BARR is how it encourages more open communication with parents. Spearin said that in most cases parents of high school students have the mentality that the school will only contact them if something is a problem, and otherwise, things are fine. Through the BARR model, however, teachers are contacting parents to advise them that their student did well on a particular test, or that a maturity spurt has been noticed. “That makes it easier for all parents when we call and say, ‘So-and-so hasn’t turned in three homework assignments’,” Spearin said. Opening the pathway of communication between teachers and parents makes both parties more comfortable in resolving issues. 

The BARR program focuses on student development in unique ways, including through “I-times”, modules designed to encourage participation and growth. Every I-time lasts for thirty minutes, and might include team building exercises, leadership activities, or a specific focus on a learning objective, such as how to set goals and break them down into achievable steps. 

After the first year, statistics are indicating that the BARR program has been a marked success. The course failure rate for freshmen has been lowered by 37 percent, attendance has increased by 3.64 percent, and suspension days have decreased by 33.3 percent. Spearin attributes the success both to the program itself and to the teachers who were willing to take on a new model. “It was a big program to take on,” Spearin said. “There was a huge learning curve in the beginning. By the end of last year, the amount of effort they put into making this work was tremendous.”

Teachers worked continually to adapt the BARR program to Calais to make it the best fit. At the end of the year, teachers modified an I-time to create an activity that saw every freshman student creating a puzzle piece to be joined together in a massive mural hanging in the hallway. The mural symbolically reminds the students how they all fit together to form a whole. “The students get to see it every day and they will until they graduate,” Spearin said.

Calais High School intends to continue participating in the BARR program at least for the next few years. The program has been gaining additional organizational support, including from the Calais and York area Rotary Clubs. For more information about BARR, contact coordinator Erika Pratt.