Of the Baker City Herald

Couches and a recliner have replaced the rows of student desks that last year lined Room 116 at Baker High School.

The more comfortable setting is designed to lure students into the room to seek comfort, advice and information. It is home to a new program the first of its kind in Northeastern Oregon schools titled andquot;Youth, Community, Schools Connected.andquot;

The program's goal is to help the school work smarter to make better use of declining dollars available to serve teen-agers, said Patti Alexander, BHS assistant principal. Rather than the traditional model of schools operating in isolation, the program brings employees from various agencies into the building to work with students in the setting where the young people spend a good portion of their time.

andquot;This is a new idea we're working through as far as really putting kids first,andquot; Alexander said.

Tammy Bloomer, mobilization coordinator for the Baker County Prevention and Education Center, will oversee the program. She and Alexander developed the concept after attending a national prevention symposium in San Francisco this summer.

Several students already have taken the opportunity to eat lunch in the lounge setting. In the first week of school, 59 students had visited the center.

andquot;One of the goals is to provide a place for kids who don't have any place to go for lunch and before and after school,andquot; Bloomer said.

Her position is funded through a Drug-Free Community grant. Other agencies have donated time and resources and the school is providing the space for the program.

andquot;This is another option for kids to be connected to the school and to the community,andquot; Alexander said. andquot;The more familiarity kids have with adults in the community, the less likely they are to be involved in negative behaviors.andquot;

And the hope is that if students visit the center on their own because it's a comfortable place to be, they will take advantage of the services offered for themselves or get help for a friend if the need arises.

andquot;It's an opportunity for kids to have access to a variety of services,andquot; Alexander said. andquot;The goal is to be real positive, with an emphasis on mentoring and community service while also providing an emphasis on the alcohol and drug piece.andquot;

The alcohol and drug issue came up during senior exit surveys this spring that showed that 75 percent of the 122 students who responded did not andquot;feel that Baker High School campus was alcohol and drug free.andquot;

Through a follow-up question on the issue, school officials learned that most students didn't believe drugs and alcohol were being used on campus. However, 43 percent of the students surveyed said they believed students used alcohol off campus and 32 percent said they believed students used drugs off campus.

The school and prevention education program hope to combine forces to address those issues, Alexander said.

In accordance with best practices as presented at the national conference, Bloomer will use prevention education to help students steer clear of alcohol and drugs. She will meet with freshmen English classes to discuss topics such as healthy coping skills, problem-solving techniques and to speak about school policies and enforcement of school rules against bullying.

She also will work with students in conjunction with Josh Bryant, Baker City Police school resource officer. And she will help link students with mentoring programs in the community and with opportunities to volunteer through projects such as after-school craft programs, Lunch Buddies and literacy tutoring.

Bloomer also will fill a void left when the leadership class was cut from the high school budget. She will meet with student leaders in Room 116 to help organize their efforts to lead the student body in community service projects and other special programs throughout the year.

Bloomer and Shannan Myers, mentoring and skills coordinator for the Baker County Prevention and Education Center, will alternate their time in Room 116 during September between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Fridays, when students are released at 1:30 p.m.

September's schedule also calls for Deputy Dee Gorrell of the Baker County Sheriff's Office and his drug-sniffing dog, Reed, to be at the school each Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Bob Evans of the Baker County Literacy Program will visit the room Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and a representative from MayDay will be available to discuss domestic violence issues with students from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursdays and from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Fridays.

Representatives from these agencies also will be available in Room 116 throughout the week:

oBlue Mountain Addictions, 11 a.m. to noon, Monday through Thursday.

oBaker County Juvenile Department, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday; and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday.

oMountain Valley Mental Health, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday; 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Wednesday.

Bloomer is especially appreciative of the donated materials used to establish the center and for the efforts of professionals to help students.

andquot;Everyone thought it was wonderful,andquot; she said. andquot;It was really a neat process, how willing everyone was to give their time.andquot;

She and Alexander hope that the integrated services project will have side benefits as well.

andquot;With money as short as it is, when grants come in they're looking for best practices and integrated services,andquot; Alexander said. andquot;We're hoping not only is it great for kids, but we hope we can generate more money for more options in the community.andquot;