Raising the BARR to make a large school feel small

May 26, 2017
BARR teachers

While Stillwater Area High School (SAHS) may look large from the outside, teachers and staff are making the school feel small and welcoming on the inside.

As ninth graders become part of the high school community next year, they’ll receive extra attention, support and care from teachers, staff and their peers by being part of a Freshman Academy.  

“It’s all about connecting with kids to ensure they don’t fall through the cracks,” said Rob Bach, high school principal. “Building strong relationships and helping kids get engaged with the school community during that first year of high school is essential.”

SAHS staff are working together to ensure new students connect with teachers and their peers from the first day of school though the last day. The Freshman Academy is designed around a research-based approach to meeting students’ academic, social and emotional needs called BARR (Building Assets, Reducing Risks). BARR will help educators better connect with their students and address the issues that cause students to fail courses, dropout, and/or engage in harmful behavior. The result: significant improvements in course credits earned, grade point averages, and standardized test scores; decreases in failure rates, suspensions, and absenteeism; and improved job satisfaction among teachers.

“It is mutually beneficial when teachers get to know their students at a deeper level and students understand that their teachers truly know and care about them,” said Matt Kraft, assistant principal. “With BARR, a foundation for success in high school has been created.”

The academy will pair a core group of three teachers with about 160 ninth graders to form a small learning community. In addition to teaching the core subjects of science, English and social studies, the teachers on each team will also help students develop good study habits and practice skills in collaboration, communication and critical thinking. Students on each team get to know their peers and their teachers more personally, which helps them feel more connected throughout their freshman year. The academy model also provides time for the three core teachers to meet together weekly to talk about their students’ academic needs, as well as any social or emotional concerns they’ve noticed.

High school teachers spent several days this spring engaged in training and professional development to learn the components of BARR. Ninth grade teachers and school counselors learned strategies for supporting students, enhancing school culture, and most importantly, collaborating with other teachers to identify and address student’s needs.

“Ninth grade is a pivotal year and we’re looking forward to welcoming our freshman and setting them up for success for the rest of high school and beyond,” said Bach.

Learn more about how Stillwater Area High School is changing to meet the needs of its students at stillwaterschools.org/highschool912.