FFMHS earns support for detention pilot effort

7 years ago

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Last year, with funding from the GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) Grant, Fort Fairfield Middle/ High School piloted a new detention program for their students. Community donations have assured the program, aimed at helping students deal with behavior issues while building self-esteem, will continue for another year.

Data collected from surveys administered during the first year of the detention program indicated to service organizations that this was a worthwhile program to continue.  Ninety-two percent of students reported they are treated with respect during the group, and 75 percent reported having learned something about themselves by attending this group.  Seventy-one percent indicated they would attend this group if it was offered at a time not during detention.  

School personnel are hopeful continuing this program will result in less office referrals and detentions and increased self-confidence with these students.

The program began when the Fort Fairfield College Access Team (CAT), comprised of school staff, administrators, community and business leaders, college personnel and students, recognized the need to reach the students most at risk in the district to increase aspirations.

The GEAR UP Maine program identifies and assists students and families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds starting in grade seven to aspire to, prepare for, enroll in, and successfully complete a post-secondary education. FFMHS partnered with Cory Tilley from The Northern Lighthouse, LLC, a non-profit organization providing a wide range of mental health services, to facilitate weekly one-hour discussions and group activities during the school’s Thursday three-hour detentions.  The Thursday detentions are designated for students with repeat and/or major offenses.

Through games, activities and discussions, Tilley leads an open dialogue about why they are there and what changes they can make in order to better regulate their behavior in the future.  This program is also open to students not serving detention.  The College Access Team feels if students are better able to regulate their emotions in school, there would be less disruptions in class and better academic success, thereby increasing graduation rates and postsecondary education enrollment.

Tilley also facilitates two other groups to help students in the middle school and ninth grade to provide a safe place for them to discuss any problems they are facing and to foster self-confidence, replace negative behaviors, and provide opportunities to develop peer relations.  

Unfortunately, the grant was unable to fund all three of these programs simultaneously, so community service organizations and leaders stepped up to offer donations to help continue the detention program for another year.

Darlene Ouellette, the supervising teacher during Thursday detentions, said, “I honestly believe that this program has made a direct positive impact on the students; it serves as a safe place for our students to speak openly about their behaviors and receive some positive guidance while at the same time, building their self-confidence and appropriate communication skills.”

Bob Dorsey, president of Aroostook Partnership and FFMHS College Access Team member, advocated for this unique program with the Fort Fairfield Lion’s Club, of which he is President and to other Fort Fairfield organizations.  Altogether, the Fort Fairfield Lion’s Club, Knights of Columbus, Rotary Club and Town Manager Jim Risner and his wife, Lori, made monetary donations totalling $1,650 to help fund the contract for Tilley’s services from January through the end of the school year.

Kim Dorsey, GEAR UP Grant Coordinator at FFMHS, credits the district administration, College Access Team, and the community  for being open to unconventional ideas and programs to help students be successful.  

“I think it’s great that our district recognizes that there is a social-emotional component to students’ success in academics and that punitive measures are not always the answer to behavioral problems with students,” she said.

“Sometimes, they need a non-judgmental person to vent their frustrations to and also given better strategies and tools on how to approach stressful situations in the future.  Ultimately, with greater self-confidence will come greater success in school,” she continued. “Mr. Tilley does a fantastic job of getting students to open up and reflect on their behaviors and actions and helps them find better ways to deal with conflicts.  It is also reaffirming that the community is willing to back this beneficial program for our students most at-risk.”

For more information about this program and other services offered through the GEAR UP grant at Fort Fairfield Middle/ High School, contact Kim Dorsey at kdorsey@msad20.org or 472-3271.