May 22, 2018
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SAD 29 explores options for middle-junior high school alternative education program

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

HOULTON, Maine — In  SAD 29, students who are at risk of dropping out of the traditional high school program can seek alternative education services thanks to an agreement with The Carleton Project, a nonprofit entity operating as a private high school across town.

At a school board meeting on Monday evening, several teachers in the district said they felt that students in grades six through eight could benefit from such as option as well, and made a presentation outlining their ideas for a middle-junior high school alternative education program.

The idea was discussed briefly during the regular three-hour board meeting, but no final decisions were made regarding whether it would be implemented, what it would look like or how much it ultimately would cost.

SAD 29 educates about 1,300 students from the towns of Houlton, Littleton, Hammond and Monticello. At this point, at-risk students in grades nine through 12 can enroll at The Carleton Project, which is housed inside the Houlton Higher Education Center and is approved by the state Department of Education. The school opened in 1999.

Dawn Dougan, curriculum coordinator for the district, told the board that at-risk children usually have a lot of truancy, lack adequate support at home and are not actively engaged in school. These children are not exhibiting problems just in high school anymore, she said.

According to district officials, there are now nine seventh-graders and 14 eighth-graders who possibly could benefit from a middle-junior high school alternative education program. Several teachers said they could identify pupils who likely would benefit from such a program as early as kindergarten.

Marion Gartley, who is the district’s special education coordinator, sketched an outline of what an alternative program could look like. The first priority of the program would be to meet the child’s needs, Gartley explained, and visits to the home of each student would be part of the program.

Dougan said the proposed alternative program would function like a family, and teachers would work with students to build a sense of community. Staff would be available to help with homework after school, and students in the program would do more hands-on work.

The board had several questions about the proposal. Fred Grant, who represents Houlton on the school board, said he liked what he heard, but he also thought the district should explore how better to identify at-risk children earlier so that they could lessen their struggles in later years. Others wondered how much it would cost in the long run, and whether there would be grant money or other funding available for financing. High school students who are enrolled at The Carleton Project now take classes at the Houlton Higher Education Center, but teachers and the board talked briefly about the possibility of housing the middle-junior high school program within one of the four schools in the district. No decision was made on that matter.

Hollie McPartland , the Houlton High School guidance director, said students who are at-risk often give up and drop out when they lose confidence and fail to learn because of their situation.

“We need to make sure that doesn’t happen,” she told the board. “Sometimes, an alternative placement is what has to be done to meet their needs.”

No decisions were made on Monday evening, but discussion will continue as the board looks to complete the 2011-2012 school budget.

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