TREE Program Builds Bridges to Learning for Children in Poverty

In the three pilot schools in Washington County, one of the programs to help kids create goals and achieve them is the Someday Program. This program lets kids pick what their Someday experience will be, and the school works to help those somedays come true. One student wanted a Bay Blade Tournament and even his teacher got involved, sitting on the floor to play. (Submitted photo)

By Kaileigh Deacon

Around Washington County there are programs aimed at trying to make schools better for children and to give them all the resources they need to succeed, not only in the school environment but in life as well. One such program is TREE [Transforming Rural Experience in Education].

TREE traces its origins to a study that revealed how much living in poverty can affect students and their later life outcomes. After September 11, 2001, a was study done on schools in New York City to look at the impact the tragedy had on the students. The study found that while the attack had impacted students, the amount of its impact paled in comparison to what children were facing living in poverty. Thus, the Turn Around for Children Program was created in New York. Based on what it has accomplished there, TREE was developed to assist students in Washington County. 

TREE aims to help schools create environments for children that are supportive and offer the services children may need beyond what Special Educational Services and other school services offer. After a five-month study in Washington County, it was determined that mental health services in schools are needed but referral lists can be quite lengthy – which is one place where TREE comes in. 

Using the Adverse Childhood Experience Score (ACES) system, TREE hopes to educate schools and communities about the impact of events on children of things they are exposed to. With a possible score of 0-10, the information can be used to help understand why the education and socialization of some children may be hindered. 

 “We believe that if schools were to understand this knowledge and then develop structures that support children who have experienced the toughest of times, then we can build on the resilience and help with coping strategies,” said Brittany Ray, Director of TREE. “Then, in the longer term, you might see a decline in special education rates.” 

TREE is working on a pilot program with three Washington County Schools – Charlotte, Milbridge, and Jonesport – for five years to help support the students and faculty. TREE will provide each school with a fulltime resource coach who will work with the school’s teachers and staff to find ways to help students succeed. All three schools will share a Mental Health Coordinator who will help the schools get mental health services right in the schools. While most insurances and MaineCare will cover the cost of such services, children who need them but don’t have insurances will be able to get the services they need without worrying about it. 

TREE is also working to create positive environments in schools, and programs like the Someday Program work toward that. Someday is a program that asks kids and teachers the question, “If you could have a ‘someday at school’ event, what would it be?” Once the answers are collected, one or two “somedays” will take place every day at school until the end of the year. Posing the question and enacting the answers gives students and teachers the ability to engage their creativity and become engaged in the shared learning environment. For example, one student wanted everyone to start the 3rd quarter of the year with a 100 in the grade book. The program has created a new exciting thing for students and staff to look forward to everyday as well and building connections for students and teachers that go beyond the classroom. 

Thanks to the funding from private donors and foundations, the TREE Program is able to offer these services to the schools as well as offering trainings to any school or community group that is interested in it. TREE is also possible thanks to the Cobscook Community Learning Center and its director, Alan Firth. 

For more information on the TREE program or to schedule a training or observation for your school or community organization, you can check out the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cclctree, its website at www.thecclc.org/tree-intro, or contact Director Brittany Ray at Brittany@thecclc.org