Mark Twain Expands

Mark Twain expands services to reach students earlier
Posted on 08/25/2021
Mark Twain juniors and seniors hear from Three Rivers College Director of Enrollment Services Chris Adams.

Mark Twain School will add staff and expand to include Middle School aged students for the 2021/22 school year, after experiencing initial success despite scaling back the scope of the operation during the health crisis.

Celebrating its one-year anniversary as a full-scale alternative school, the North Main Street facility will add two teachers and a paraprofessional to serve upward of 25 students, grades 4-6, in A building—the 1951 portion—in addition to 100+ students, grades 7-12, occupying the 1987 and 2008 structures.

“To open a building in and of itself during the year that we did; enough said,” stated Aaron Burton, Mark Twain principal. “But our job wasn’t any easier or more difficult than anyone else’s—from Early Childhood to Kindergarten and all of our elementaries—everyone had to deal with the pandemic.

"Our board, administrative staff and our community want us to find a way to reach every kid any way we have to, and we're just another piece, living our mission, which is the PB-RI mission,” he continued.

The vision to offer a nontraditional pathway beginning at a younger age is to catch at-risk students before they fall behind, according to school officials. Mark Twain doubles as a service hub for the district, housing the attendance office, which includes the district’s social workers, who facilitate the Bright Futures Poplar Bluff program with community advocates.

“If we can be proactive at a much younger age, recognizing some of the barriers that some of our kids are already going through, I feel like we can avoid the credit recovery ever coming into existence,” Burton explained. “If we concentrate on the social and the interpersonal relationship skills that they’re gonna need to be successful in society, think about how much baggage or negativity we’ll keep out of their life – by keeping them on track educationally and not allowing them to get a year behind.”

Also new this year, Mark Twain will staff an FCC Behavioral Health employee in a partnership that establishes a credit-bearing life skills class for high school students on campus, an arrangement that has caught the interest of state officials, stakeholders reported during the May Board of Education meeting. The Kennett-based nonprofit initially piloted bringing school-based psychosocial rehabilitation services to R-I in 2017/18, with full implementation the following academic year.

Additionally, Mark Twain offers the Jobs for America’s Graduates program, a project-based learning elective taught by trained specialist Darla Nunn. Through the cost-sharing program with JAG-Missouri, students receive career exploration opportunities and trauma-informed care, as part of the curriculum model. Individual development plans are created for each participant, and follow-up contacts are made for 12 months to assist graduates in seeking employment, entering the military or pursuing further education.

Meanwhile, Edgenuity online curriculum for blended learning has replaced A+ Courseware, originally offered at the former Graduation Center, consolidated under the Mark Twain banner. A total of 20 students have earned their High School Equivalency diploma thus far, and Burton said he has already had students finishing basic training. One student recommended enrollment to his brother who previously dropped out of school, and the sibling has since completed credit recovery through the Missouri Options Program, and is now working toward a managerial position at a large retailer, the principal reported.

“We are changing lives every day at Mark Twain; it’s a mindset, is what it comes down to,” said Dr. Scott Dill, R-I superintendent. “Mark Twain is a place of healing, restoration and a chance for our students who have not been successful in the traditional setting to right the ship because, as we know, just like failure, success builds upon itself and can spiral up or downward.”

The Mark Twain campus was part of the final phase of the 2014 voter-approved buildings plan, which added over 245,000-square-feet of academic space across the district impacting all grade levels. When the Early Childhood program moved to a dedicated site on the Kindergarten campus last year, the new school was opened in the freed-up space.

“I’m really pleased with our new Early Childhood Center but I’m also equally pleased that we’re breathing new life into the Mark Twain building, and we’re reimagining the larger mission of the school district that exists within the community, while repurposing a vital piece of history,” Dill said. “We have learned a lot about the process at every level as members of a professional learning community, and we will continue to expand, grow, alter and do whatever is necessary to make sure Mark Twain School is a sustainable model – in perpetuity.”

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Cutline: Mark Twain juniors and seniors interested have an opportunity to visit Three Rivers College and hear from Director of Enrollment Services Chris Adams during a tour in April.

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