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Pioneer garners grants for behavioral health, alternative grad paths

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo



Recorder Staff
Monday, February 05, 2018

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional School is the recipient of $7,447 and Principal Jean Bacon knows just how the money will be spent.

One grant provided by the Federal Title IV’s Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Program for $2,247 will go toward development of alternative paths to graduation for nontraditional learners, while the other, a Safe and Supportive Schools grant for $5,200, will support an assessment of Pioneer’s behavioral health programs.

Different tests, same competencies

The plan for the $2,247 grant, Bacon said, is to develop competency-based programs for students who are “just not kids who learn effectively in a traditional classroom environment.”

Bacon, who was formerly the 21st century programs director at North Adams Public Schools, said North Adams’ Drury High School had an alternative education program for 12 students. The program increased graduation rates for students who might have dropped out otherwise, Bacon said.

Students who would benefit from an alternative program “don’t necessarily have documented disabilities,” Bacon said, but have “life circumstances that prevent them from having a traditional education.” Such students might have gaps in early learning, skills they learned outside of the classroom or been out of school due to hospitalization, making an alternative path mesh well with Pioneer’s Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) program.

Bacon said there are now seven high schoolers and three middle schoolers who would benefit from such a program.

“We know there’s kids this year who aren’t going to graduate based on the credits they’ve earned,” she said. “They’ve struggled. Up until now, we really haven’t had a way to support them.”

Students who become over-age and under-credited, she said, have a huge risk of dropping out.

Ultimately, Bacon wants Pioneer’s graduation rate to be 100 percent, though its 2016 graduation rate — 97 percent of 62 students — was the highest in Franklin County and higher than the state average of 88 percent, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education statistics. Low-income students and students with disabilities had significantly higher rates of dropping out.

Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program entitlement grants are available to every district, Bacon said, so the Pioneer district applies for one each year, sometimes splitting money among the elementary schools. This year, the money will support stipends for a team of three teachers that will work with Bacon to develop an alternative path that would allow students to demonstrate the same competencies as other graduates but through different means.

Bacon plans to assemble the team within the next week and by the end of the school year decide on a framework for the path, which would need to be approved by the majority of faculty.

The rest of the $2,247 grant will support an active bystanders training program led by Quabbin Mediation and subsidize advanced placement (AP) exam fees.

Assessing behavioral health services

The second grant, a Safe and Supportive Schools competitive grant for $5,200, will allow Bacon to convene a group of teachers, parents and students — likely including School Council members — who will complete an assessment of Pioneer’s behavioral health services using a specific survey.

The survey looks at various aspects of a school’s behavioral health support, with questions like, “Do staff have enough training to adapt their approach to fit students’ behavioral health needs?” and “Does the school have screeners to monitor social-emotional development?” Other questions consider in-district referral systems and behavioral health goals of the superintendent and School Committee.

The ultimate question, Bacon said, is “Are we doing what we need to do to support students’ behavioral health?

“I’m sure it’ll reveal areas where we are strong, as well as areas where we have gaps,” she said.

The next step, following the survey, will be to develop an action plan for Pioneer, with a deadline of June 30. Bacon said she envisions the action plan as becoming part of the overall School Improvement Plan.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257