FARMINGTON — “What we are finding is that rather than just working with a particular population, we are really working with a representative population of the entire student body, which makes us feel pretty good that numbers-wise we are doing what we set out to do, which was to provide access for everyone,” Dan Ryder, director of the Mt. Blue Campus Success and Innovation Center said Tuesday, Jan. 28 during his presentation to Regional School Unit 9 directors.

SIC, as it is called by students and staff, was founded by Ryder and former co-director Becky Dennison. It has been funded by a GEAR UP Multiple Pathways Pilot Research Grant.

“Three years ago, we were given the opportunity for the grant, which uses federal dollars,” he said. “We had the opportunity to try out some action research with them and we proposed the idea for the center.”

Grant funding expires at the end of the current school year, he said.

“It is budget season so we just wanted to show you what we have been up to for you to consider as you are deliberating,” he said.

SIC is built on three key purposes, Ryder said. Academic, social-emotional, and post-secondary coaching for students; instructional and professional coaching for faculty and staff; and fostering access to 21st-century learning and teaching opportunities for all members of the Mt. Blue Campus community.

Ryder, who taught English at Mt. Blue High School before taking over as SIC director said the idea for the center was “birthed out of working with a lot of students here on campus.”

Many students do not fall into a program that provides a path to accessing resources or assistance, he said.

“They are not in Special Ed,” he said. “They are not considered a behavioral risk. They are not an Honors student. They don’t fall under a category that gets a label.

“One young man I remember well. You could see that he had tremendous potential but you could also see the potential for him to go, ‘Ugh … I have to do this through four years of high school.’ You could see this as a ninth grader but I could see the spark of things that interested him. I was worried he wouldn’t get any of those sparks after ninth grade. I wondered what was going to happen.

“He was one of several in a population that I saw as an English teacher.  They are wonderful students with tremendous potential and opportunity but what if they don’t fall into one of our buckets that are more easily dividable, what happens to those kids? We didn’t have a good answer. With that in mind, we created SIC.”

SIC provides a “compass to find direction to resources on campus or in the community” and a “canvas where they might need to build something or create”. The creation can be physical or it may be something like a business, he said.

Ryder read a quote from one student who said the first time they came to SIC, it was to borrow “a fork or a spoon or something,” Ryder said. That student has been coming in every day since then.

“That captures the relationship we have between students and SIC,” Ryder said. “It is a place where anyone on campus can come for help but we try to build a relationship with them. They know they can come there just once but they also know they can come there whenever they need to.”

Ryder said 406 of the high school’s 725 students accessed SIC resources in the first semester of the school year, either by visiting the center or through classroom programs. “That represents 56% of the student body,” he said.

Of the students served, 17% are identified through Individual Education Programs or 504 Plans; 33% qualify for free or reduced lunch; 20% of classes served are identified as Honors classes; and 40% of classes served are identified as college prep courses.

“This falls pretty closely in line with what our population is like,” he said.

Students log the reason for their visit when they sign into the center, he said. Data shows 18% of visits are to receive tutoring, 34% is to receive mentoring and 48% is for working independently.

“Most students self-report as independent workers,” he said. “However, upon asking our intro question of, ‘How might we be helpful?’, most students discover they need tutoring or mentoring to achieve their goals.”

Ed tech Dana Dowling was added to SIC staff in November.

“The impact of having Dana is that SIC has been at 100% usage,” Ryder said.

After Dennison left for another district last year, Ryder would have to close the center while he made visits to classrooms.

With Dowling on board, 65 students were able to access SIC while Ryder was working with students in classroom settings.

“It’s not just one department we work with,” he said. “It’s not just one particular group of students that we work with. It is a whole lot of everyone.”

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