NORTH BERWICK – Noble High School officials said Tuesday they are seeing higher test scores and fewer disciplinary problems two years after launching a multimillion-dollar program aimed at ninth-graders that emphasizes making social and emotional connections with students.

The Building Assets-Reducing Risks program is described as a “structured, tag-team approach” targeting ninth-graders. Under the program, teams of ninth-grade teachers, counselors, social workers and others are assigned blocks of freshmen. They meet regularly to discuss individual student’s progress and the entire group is responsible for the overall progress of all students in the block.

The students also attend a period where they do group activities to encourage them to share information and form connections.

“It’s a good way to talk to people,” said Jordynn Godin, 14, a freshman at Noble. “It helps you learn about someone in a new way.”

“Usually, you have those cliques, but now you don’t because it’s kind of a forced group,” said Andrew Morissette, 14.

At Noble, standardized test scores are up 15 percent and truancy and disciplinary problems are down, said BARR coordinator Janice Eldridge.


The school hosted a two-day conference on Tuesday and Wednesday for teachers from several states that are testing the BARR approach.

“It’s about people. It’s about relationships,” said Angela Jerabek, who developed the BARR program when she was a counselor at St. Louis Park High School in Minnesota. “If we’re being attentive to the person, and use data, we’re going to continue to see incredible results.”

In 2013, Spurwink was awarded a five-year, $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement the BARR program in Maine schools. In 2015-16, BARR will be used in schools in seven states, through 25 grants nationwide.

In Maine, it is being used in nine schools, including Mountain View High School in Thorndike, Presque Isle High School and Lake Region High School in Naples. Some are running randomized control studies – picking out some students randomly to participate – to generate data about the results.

At the conference Tuesday, Jerabek said the idea behind the program is to make a personal connection with each student, and between teachers who must work together to understand and serve the students.

“There’s not a magical curriculum, there’s not a magic technology that’s going to revolutionize our schools,” she said. “It’s going to be these intentional relationships.”


“People talk about the achievement gap. I believe a lot of our students are in a relationship gap,” Jerabek said. “BARR has been considered soft, but our outcomes are hard.”

Bucksport High School, one of the earliest adopters of the program, is now considered a demonstration BARR school, along with the Minnesota school where it began.

Regional School Unit 25 Superintendent Jim Boothby said they started the program at Bucksport in 2011-12 with grant money, but have continued it for two years without additional funding, and expanded it to the middle school.

“It is part of our culture now,” Boothby said, noting that the school has seen increases in test scores and graduation rates. He said the graduation rate had been just under 80 percent for years, and is now more consistently around 90 percent. “When I walk into the high school now, everything has a purpose. I see a healthy environment, an environment prepared to meet the needs of the students.”


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