Mt. Blue Principal Joel Smith shows an example of an activity for I-Times on Friday, March 15. Smith shared these types of activities are more for building relationships between students and teacher. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Five years ago, Mt. Blue High School began implementing the BARR model on incoming ninth grade students to help with their transition into high school. BARR, which stands for ‘Building Assets, Reducing Risk’, is designed to help students increase their attendance rates, lower their rate of failure, and help build a stronger bond between students and their teachers.

“Freshmen have always been a demographic of students who have struggled,” Earth Science Teacher Kerry Schlosser shared with the Maine Department of Education, who highlighted MBHS’ success with the BARR model in a recent news release.

Schlosser went on to state that BARR functions as an additional level of support from the teaching and administrative team, as the transition from middle school into high school can be a “vulnerable time.”

BARR is a model that combines relationship building between staff and students and real-time data to enable schools to strengthen academic outcomes and the wellbeing of all students. Principal Joel Smith, who oversaw the BARR program during his time as assistant principal, explained how the program is implemented among the students.

“When they come in as freshmen, we strategically place them with one of two groups of teachers,” Smith explained. These groups are overseen by four designated freshmen educators and once the students are placed into a group, the school will adjust the students’ schedules so that at least three out of those four educators will have those particular groups of students in their class.

Dr. Patricia Millette teaches her ninth-grade I-Time students about using critical thinking to decipher manipulative advertisements. Submitted Photo

From there, these teachers will meet in block meetings, where they discuss each student individually with an emphasis on their strengths and connections to school. They will also share their personal knowledge and observations of the student, like their mental health and family life, and analyze benchmark data to find where the students are excelling and/or struggling.


Students will then build relationships with their educators and peers through I-Time. At Mt. Blue, each ninth-grade teacher has twenty freshmen they see during multiple I-Times, which involve activities that center on relationship building to life skills development. These I-Times allow students to meet and build a strong bond with other students and teachers.

“We have a big block at the end of the week where we discuss students as a big team with the administrator, school counselor, and social worker,” Schlosser said. “Then, at the beginning of the week, we have our small block meeting.”

Students that are identified as at risk are discussed in community connect meetings. Held weekly, these community connect meetings will feature ninth-grade Assistant Principal Greg Henderson, school social workers Angelica Levy and Jack Turner, school nurse Vicky Gerstenberger, special education building coordinator Mike Hanson, and school resource officer Matt Brann discussing and developing strategies for intervention and limiting poor behavior before they can result in punitive measures.

“Just yesterday, I was working with a student who had some minor behavior stuff going on,” Henderson shared. “But I knew from working with BARR that they were also failing a number of classes. They should have had a detention for the behavior that went on, and instead, they committed to me that they would participate in our extended day program for at least one day next week.”

Mt. Blue High School’s Community Connect meeting is where school community members meet to discuss at-risk students. Submitted Photo

“So I said, ‘great, I’d rather have you get academic support and work towards recovering your classes than be sitting in detention’,” Henderson added.

Smith shared that during his time as assistant principal, the 2018/2019 school year [the year before BARR was implemented] proved to be a challenging year for suspensions.


“We had a challenging year with just suspensions and stuff like that,” he shared. “I just realized we need to have a better system.”

Smith shared that once talks began, things moved quickly for the school with staff and administration putting together a grant proposal that was submitted and approved for the 2019/2020 school year.

Within the first year, Mt. Blue saw a marked improvement, with the school going from 123 failures among their 2018/2019 freshmen class to 84 failures in their 2019/2020 freshmen class.

“The thing that I always say about BARR is that if you implement the program as it’s designed, you will get positive results,” Henderson shared.

Since implementation, Mt. Blue has reported continued success with the program to the Regional School Unit 9 board of directors, with Smith recently telling the directors in January the school saw a 4% improvement in attendance rates from September to December of last year, with current attendance numbers sitting at 90.4%, up from 82.6% at the beginning of the year.

Currently, BARR is only available for the incoming freshmen class, but with only one year in the BARR program, teachers are seeing an impact once the students progress. Meadow Sheldon, a sophomore level English teacher who has been with Mt. Blue since before BARR was implemented, noted a significant difference in her sophomore students that have gone through the BARR program.


“They work hard, and they can advocate for themselves,” Sheldon stated. “They have an understanding of what [their grades] mean and ask for help more than students have in the past.”

Furthermore, chronic absenteeism numbers are also declining, dropping to 25.9% from 39.3% with Smith attributing these improvements to the Attendance Incentive Program, which incorporates elements of BARR.

“We’ve really restructured the approach we have to attendance and made it a comprehensive team approach,” Smith told the directors at this meeting. “We use the BARR model with our freshmen, and we’ve made it more comprehensive in our attendance. We’ve taken elements of BARR, and a whole structure for intervention, and we’ve applied it to attendance.”

Smith shared with The Franklin Journal that using the BARR model and applying it to attendance has helped the school identify the root causes for a student’s declining attendance, which he stated is often nuanced and never fully attributed to one factor.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to take the BARR model and apply it to some of our action committees,” Smith shared.

Outside of Mt. Blue High School, other schools in the district have begun implementing the BARR model in some form. Mt. Blue Middle School, Cascade Brook School, Cape Cod Hill, Academy Hill and Gerald D. Cushing are all implementing BARR, and Henderson said MBHS has already begun talks with the middle school administration to identify key students to focus on once they enter high school.

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