BUCKSPORT, Maine — Regional School Unit 25 has been awarded a four-year $400,000 grant that will fund a new program to improve student success during the first year of high school.
RSU 25 is one of four school districts in the country that will receive the grant funds through the Minnesota-based Search Institute, which recently received a $5 million federal Investing in Innovation Fund grant to expand its Building Assets — Reducing Risks, or BARR, program. That grant requires a 20 percent match that must be in place by Sept. 8 for the funds to be awarded, and the Search Institute is working to secure private funding for that match.
The RSU 25 grant is dependent upon the institute receiving the innovation grant.
Other recipients of the grant funds include Madison Area District in Madison, the Hemet Unified School district in California and the St. Louis Park High School in Minnesota, where the BARR program began 10 years ago.
The BARR program focuses on the first year of high school because of the risky nature of that transition year, according to the Search Institute. The goal of the program is to increase achievement of all first-year high school students, using a framework of developmental assets to improve the school climate.
In its first five years at St. Louis Park High School, the program helped to cut ninth-grade failure rate in half, increased ninth-grade attendance and decreased drug and tobacco use, according to the institute’s website.
According to RSU 25 Superintendent Jim Boothby, the grant will provide the district with $100,000 in each of the four years of the grant program.
“Increasing the graduation rate; that’s our biggest goal, to help students to be successful,” Boothby said. “But there are other outcomes — social and wellness issues and reducing high-risk behaviors — that come from that.”
The program is based on promoting 40 developmental assets that are necessary for students to be successful, Boothby said. Among those developmental assets are “external assets” such as strong family support, a caring neighborhood, caring school climate and positive adult role models; as well as “internal assets” such as devel-oping positive values and self-esteem, a commitment to learning and social competencies.
According to the Search Institute website, rates of student success are directly related to the number of these positive assets a student develops.
“The more of these assets students have, the more successful they’re going to be,” Boothby said.
By focusing on creating a supportive family, community and school environment, he said, the program will help make the high school a place where students can and will succeed.
The program will involve working not only with students but with their families as well, and it will be developed in conjunction with other initiatives already under way in the district, he said.
If the Search Institute can secure the matching funds, the first year of the program will focus on training for a ninth-grade team at the high school, gathering data and planning for any restructuring and rescheduling that might be necessary to implement the program. The program would be implemented with the freshman class of fall 2011.