Emanuel Pariser, left, of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences observes the school agriculture specialist and a student as they confer during a team building exercise in this BDN file photo. Credit: John Clarke Russ | BDN

Emanuel Pariser of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences was a guest on the National Public Radio program “Here And Now” to discuss the charter school’s Threshold Program, which aims to connect teachers with students who are not attending classes.

The interview came on the heels of a New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story about an increase in severe anxiety among American teenagers, as well as a previous “Here And Now” episode about a condition mental health professionals are starting to call “school refusal.”

Pariser told “Here And Now” host Robin Young he doesn’t care for the term.

“I think it implies a kind of willful act, and that people are refusing because they want to be obstinate or they’re pushing back,” Pariser, the school’s director of instruction and education programming, said. “I think it’s much more often an act coming out of fear and coming out of a sense of a lack of empowerment, as opposed to a sense that you can push back on things and get what you want.”

Pariser said under the academy’s Threshold Program, which was launched in September, teachers are sent to the homes of truant students to learn more about their lives and develop individualized learning plans for them.

“It’s a home visiting model and we feel like this is one way to get students who have been disengaged re-engaged with their schooling,” he told Young, adding, “Our overarching goal is to get them to graduate high school, and if we can work them back into a more conventional school environment, that is great.”

He said of the 21 students in the program, “18 came in with some sort of diagnosis or self reflection that they were socially anxious.” The other three, he said, are teen parents.

“I think it’s a natural response, a suspicious response [to believe] that people are manipulating the system, but I can tell you that nine out of 10 teenagers would much rather be with their peers than at home alone, isolated and feeling really low self esteem as a result of it,” Pariser told Young.

The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences is the state’s first public charter school, opening in 2012 on the Good Will-Hinckley campus in Hinckley, near Fairfield.

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.