Burlington High School is part of the most diverse school district in Vermont. The high school's philosophy around student learning is that the world is rapidly changing and we need to continue to remodel education and provide a more customized experience for all students. With this in mind and considering the criteria set forth in Act 77, my project plan is to create a community partnership learning program by tapping into the plethora of resources that are in our own backyard. This program will provide all Burlington High School students with real-world learning opportunities to discover or reaffirm interests while earning credit. This program will allow students to engage in meaningful community service learning projects, focused educational experiences such as internships, research projects, work-based learning, develop potential career opportunities and gain technical 'new world' skills. By transitioning to a community partnership learning requirement, all students, particularly those that are underserved and may be at the greatest risk of not completing high school, will be given a supported opportunity to explore personalized learning options outside the walls of BHS.
What if we could build more creative, integrated, and equitable school communities? What if students were able to take part in interest-based experiences all year long? What if one day a week was dedicated entirely to these experiences? What if these experiences happened in four or six-week rotations to allow students to take part in dozens of them throughout their high school career? What if faculty set an example for intrinsic motivation and lifelong learning on a weekly basis? What if students could use these experiences to declare a concentration like Arts, STEM, or Citizenship on their diplomas? And, what if these experiences were tied not to department or discipline credits, but transferrable skills, graduation standards, and a personal learning process?
These are some of the questions we would like to try to answer during our time as Rowland Fellows in order to create an interest-based, embedded program at CVU that allows students to practice skills, gain knowledge, and meet proficiencies through regularly-scheduled experiences of their choosing.
Interest-based learning directly relates to knowledge and skill "acquisition since interest contributes to deep-level information processing with stronger elaborations and connections to prior knowledge and [because of this] produces long-term engagement" (Sturmer, Koenigs, & Seidel, 2015). With that said, interest-based learning in schools most often takes on one of two forms: alternative models only available to a limited number of students, or as a one-off project in a traditional class. This leaves the vast majority of high schoolers wanting more. Our Rowland Fellowship will help us create a program that bridges this gap in an intentional and meaningful way, putting students and their interests at the forefront.
Middlebury Union High School, in unison with all of the schools of Addison Central School District, has recently embarked on an ambitious journey to become an International Baccalaureate World School. Our successful transition depends on working collaboratively within and across buildings to re-envision our systems, structures, and instructional approaches. The range of stakeholders is wide, and the work requires an all-hands-on-deck approach across the district; numerous teams are forming to advance various components, working in tandem with one another. As 2017 Fellows, we will support this effort by studying how to best support the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) in our school through interdisciplinary teaching teams.
While many effective interdisciplinary teaming models exist, extensive systemic change is required at MUHS to launch, support, and sustain this pedagogical approach. However, while such a transition will be complicated, it will also be richly rewarding for our students, staff, and community. We wish to dedicate ourselves to this endeavor, using our sabbatical to launch a deep inquiry into interdisciplinary team instructional models, the educational research underpinning and supporting them, and the practical systemic changes and professional trainings that will need to be developed in order to create an environment conducive to interdisciplinary teams.
Our fellowship will allow us to develop the expertise in interdisciplinary team theory, pedagogy, and structures needed to assist MUHS in supporting the development and implementation process over the next several years; our work will help our school build capacity, will inform the extent, sequence and potential timeline of deep systemic changes, and provide pedagogical resources to help maintain teams once launched. Dedicating this gift of time to this project will result in an asset that will keep giving long after MUHS has completed IB candidacy.
"What does it mean to be proficient? What if a kid never reaches proficiency? Do you need to be proficient in every single area in order to graduate? How is a letter grade any different than a proficiency grade? Why do I have to have a Personalized Learning Plan (PLP)? How can we get our students to meaningfully reflect?"
These, along with dozens more, are the questions I hear every day from students, staff, parents, and strangers. With Act 77, the Flexible Pathways Initiative, schools across Vermont have the opportunity to create meaningful learning experiences for students. My role as a Rowland Fellow is to facilitate this development process at South Burlington, while providing our staff, in particular, the supports they need in order to implement the changes accompanying the shift to proficiency-based learning. Currently, we are working to embed the components of the personalized learning plans within our existing freshman and sophomore advisories, while expanding the advisory experience over all four years. The rubs lie with the relationship between proficiency-based learning and PLPs. My goal through my sabbatical time is to see how other schools across the state and across the country have addressed proficiency-based learning and create professional development for our staff to feel confident in this shift. In return, teachers will then feel confident in facilitating conversations with their advisories as students build and reflect on their PLPs.
Essential to Act 77 is the concept of flexible pathways, which are part of Winooski's vision for student-centered learning. During my fellowship, I plan to simultaneously design a system of assessment for authentic, multiple pathway learning opportunities while piloting said opportunities for students that will demonstrate the usability of the system. These opportunities must:
Crucial for each flexible pathway is a system of assessment that integrates teachers, supports the student, and utilizes the community partner, with the end goal of students earning proficiency towards graduation. My goal is to create the assessment system, based off the WMHS GXs and GPs, that is the missing link between the vision for "multiple pathways" and a map for students to travel those pathways. WMHS needs a system that "connects the dots," and allows educators, students, and community partners to create learning opportunities that are greater than the sum of their parts. I plan to work with students to discover what experiences are already a part of their lives, and pilot the assessment system to explore the possibility of earning proficiency for student, self-designed experiences. The end result will allow for as many personalized, meaningful paths to graduation as there are students. More broadly, this system will invite the entire community to share responsibility for our learners' growth, and to celebrate the collective value that each success brings.
With the generous support of the Rowland Foundation, we will re-imagine school-based structures and forge stronger bonds with the community to facilitate greater personalized and authentic learning opportunities for our students. This fellowship will help us to accomplish two tasks: 1) to examine and enhance WUHSMS's connections to our community, including our alumni, with the objective of developing a Community Learning Network and 2) to fully develop structures and processes that will enable students to engage in real world, community-based learning experiences. This work will meet the challenges and realize the true promise of Flexible Pathways and the Education Quality Standards, linking personalized learning, proficiency-based learning and graduation requirements.
The greater Woodstock area possesses a spirit of valuing community and collaboration, of which WUHSMS has engaged in a variety of experiences throughout the years. Currently there is enormous potential for students to be supported in their outside-of-school learning and our hope is to pull together the work that has been done in a coherent and accessible way. In the Woodstock Community Learning Network, we seek to strengthen and enhance this vibrant network and partnerships between WUHSMS, local organizations, businesses, and individuals. We will develop memoranda of understanding among partners and clear expectations for providing students with rich experiences, allowing them to meet proficiencies and contribute to our community in significant ways. The list of potential partners is growing and includes the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, Pentangle Arts Council, and ArtisTree Community Arts Center.