After operating as one program for many years, funding models required the REAL school to create a bifurcated program for the 2015-16 school year, meaning two separate programs operated under the REAL school name. The Kathadin program is a general education program solely for RSU14 students. The Casco program is a tuition-based special education program for students from 14 districts all over southern Maine.
Starting with the 2016-17 school year, the Casco program will no longer be operating as an RSU14 program. “Because we were able to create two separate, autonomous programs, it was no longer fiscally responsible for RSU14 to continue to subsidize a program that worked with very few of their students,” said REAL School director Martin Mackey.
This self contained special education program won’t be closing, however. The Brunswick School Department will assume responsibility for the program as of July 1, 2016.
RSU14 will continue to provide REAL School programming in the general education setting serving both students with and without IEPs. All students in this program will be from within RSU14, as they have been this current school year. The school will operate in the same way it always has, said Mackey. “We try to approach each individual with their successes and their strengths, and then accentuate those strengths, and that’s what the Real School has done for 34 years.”
Many veteran staff members will continue on, Mackey added, and service learning still plays a large role. Students are in the process of planning a trip to Georgia for a sea turtle conservation project, and this year a new Americorp program, SySTEM, began. In this program, the school works with a number of organizations to deliver STEM based curriculum to students through service learning projects.
Mackey said it is important to celebrate the dedication of the staff, students and RSU14 administration who have helped make the transition happen as seamlessly as possible. “Everyone has had nothing but the students’ best interest in mind, and making sure this program will be able to continue its fidelity,” he said. It’s also important to note, he said, that none of the changes are a result of programming, but rather the result of the different fiscal components of running a regional school that works with a number of different districts.
This change is a new opportunity for students and staff to grow, and work together, and adapt, said Mackey. “One of the things that we’ve always done is to celebrate the differences of everyone whether it’s our students, our staff or our administration. We really are a pretty unique place that strives to work with each individual member through relationships and love. There’s a lot of love that happens at our school,” Mackey said.
The REAL School has capacity for approximately 30 students in the 2016-17 school year. Though the number of students served isn’t huge, the impact the school has is apparent in the comments of many stakeholders.
“The REAL School has had an incredibly positive impact on many students that I have worked with over the years,” said Nicole Pool, assistant special education director for MSAD57. “REAL School provides a safe, therapeutic environment that supports students with their academics while teaching them how to work through difficult life situations ‘in the moment.’ The REAL School has helped transform students with low self-esteem and an uncertainty of who they are too proud, self-aware, independent young adults,” she added.
“The REAL School has been a lifesaver for my son,” said Cathy Gurney, the parent of a 2015 graduate. “The staff is dedicated, caring and available. Providing positive attitudes, self esteem, inner strength and other life lessons is what they do best.”
Wayne Otto, the grandparent of a current REAL school student, said that since his grandson began attending he has had fewer and fewer incidents both at school and at home.“He has learned to respect others and even has begun to show great compassion for those less fortunate,” he said. His grandson’s academic capabilities have also substantially improved, Otto added.
Mackey said he is grateful for the staff and students who have helped him navigate through these challenges into the future. The school mascot is the Phoenix, and according to Mackey “This is another opportunity for the Phoenix to rise up in a different form, but continue the legacy of what we’ve done for so long.”