Mountain Valley High School in Rumford is a tough little school situated in a tough town, where plenty of teachers are dedicated to their work with students in class and on the playing fields.
Even so, too many students are struggling and could use a little inspiration and more than a little prodding to recognize their potential for success — in school and after graduation.
Mt. Valley is part of RSU 10, which also includes Buckfield Jr.-Sr. High School.
The district once included Dirigo High School, but last year voters in Canton, Peru, Dixfield and Carthage split off to form RSU 56 in an effort to save costs and improve student performance.
Of the three schools, Mt. Valley students really struggle.
Passing rate for math:
Mt. Valley, 17 percent
Buckfield, 22 percent
Dirigo, 10 percent
Maine, 25 percent
Passing rate for English language skills:
Mt. Valley, 22 percent
Buckfield, 52 percent
Dirigo, 35 percent
Maine, 46 percent
There are fewer students enrolled in AP courses at Mt. Valley than their neighboring schools, fewer take the SATs, fewer take science classes, and Mt. Valley has the lowest number of students enrolled in a gifted and talented program.
The most shocking number, though, is the student absentee rate at Mt. Valley, where 51 percent of students missed 15 or more school days in 2015, versus 2 percent at Buckfield at 8 percent at Dirigo that same year.
That indicates students at Mt. Valley don’t feel connected to the classroom, or maybe even to their teachers and schoolmates. The high rate suggests attending school has lost its importance for too many students.
Sadly, the same might be said for the teachers since Mt. Valley has the highest rate of teacher absenteeism of the three schools. (Mt. Valley teachers are also paid the least among the three.)
A direct correlation to student performance is poverty rate, which is reflected in the very high number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch at Mt. Valley: 67.5 percent compared to 58.2 percent at Buckfield and 47.5 percent at Dirigo. Elsewhere in Maine, the average is 46 percent.
A pretty dire picture, right?
Not necessarily. The graduation rate at Mt. Valley is climbing and, while still the lowest in Oxford County, it’s the highest it’s been in five years. And, there’s a group standing in the wings ready to boost that momentum and convince students that high school graduation is a key step in their transition to the workforce.
Sen. Lise Keim, R-Rumford, told a group of teachers, counselors and business owners in Rumford two weeks ago that there is an entire generation of Maine youngsters who believe that money comes in the mail, not by way of a paycheck.
That has to stop, she said, and she’s working with Craig Larrabee, president of CEO of JMG – Jobs for Maine Graduates – to bring the student-centered program to Mt. Valley.
Larrabee has already identified funding and is prepared to set up a program, with the approval of the RSU 10 Board of Directors.
We urge approval.
There is no other SMG program in Oxford County and, of all the high schools there, Mt. Valley is in the greatest need.
The program is designed to work with students who need and want help, and with teachers, parents and companies working together to boost student performance and aspiration.
In Maine, JMG serves more than 7,000 students who collectively boast a higher high school graduation rate than the state average. Maine’s program is recognized as the top program of its kind in the nation, with a mission to ensure “all Maine students graduate, attain post-secondary credentials and pursue meaningful careers.”
That’s a lofty goal, and one that requires considerable vision and energy.
The program’s core work is bringing students together with local businesses to see what opportunities await them, and it teaches them the value of community volunteerism and hard work, including what it takes to earn and keep a job.
And, along the way, students come to learn that the most rewarding money comes from cashing a paycheck.
Every student at Mt. Valley deserves this opportunity, and we urge the RSU 10 board to embrace the work. And, then, for every school district to do the same for their own students.