A Portland-based nonprofit was awarded a five-year, $12 million U.S. Department of Education grant to expand a program that creates a team approach to helping high school freshmen.

Spurwink, which provides mental health and educational services for children, adolescents, adults and families, must now raise $1.2 million in private matching funds — half of it by Dec. 11 — to receive the grant.

The grant is part of a nationwide project to test the team-teaching approach designed 15 years ago by a Minnesota high school counselor to improve student achievement.

Spurwink would implement the “Building Assets-Reducing Risks” — or BARR — program at 11 schools in Maine; grantees in other states would do the same.

The BARR grants total $135 million.

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

At the Minnesota school where it first was implemented, the program cut ninth-grade failure rates in half and more than doubled the number of students choosing to take rigorous Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes.

Part of the Maine funding will be used for teachers to serve as trainers in some schools.

The BARR program has already been implemented in some Maine schools, including Madison, Bucksport and Sanford high schools.

A $5 million DOE grant in 2010 launched the BARR program at five high schools in the nation, including Bucksport. Superintendent Jim Boothby, of Regional School Unit 25 in Bucksport, praised the program, which began in the 2011-12 school year.

“We’re finding that students have better daily attendance and are staying in school instead of dropping out,” Boothby said.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:[email protected]

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