The Rowland Foundation

2021 Rowland Fellows
Rachel Howes & Brenton Litterer
Winooski Middle & High School

Creating a Close-Knit Learning Community

At Winooski High School, we can honestly say that we have tried to engage all learners. Our proficiency system respects that learners come in with varied skillsets, but that all learners need certain skills for success. Learning is the constant, and time is the variable. We offer whole group instruction, small group instruction, teacher-paced classes, self-paced classes, flexible pathways, student-created learning opportunities, and free college classes. And yet, year after year, we continue to lose kids, often to Vermont Adult Learning (VAL), which for many is a nicer way to say “dropped out.

COVID, however, brought us the opportunity to try one of the few things we have not tried, at least not for some time. Essentially, we recreated the one-room schoolhouse of a bygone era. Each teacher would teach a pod of 8-12 students, two days in person, two days remote. The teacher would begin the year with a unit that reflected the teacher’s licensure area, then pass the unit to the next teachers. The students in the original Pod, having completed the first unit, then begin a new discipline, facilitated by their original teacher. While these systems may not work long-term for all students and teachers, some of the students are thriving. These students have a consistent, caring adult, consistent rules, a consistent schedule, a soft beginning and end to the school day, and the chance to personalize their learning. Discipline referrals are at historic lows, in-person attendance is solid, and learning is happening. We know, however, that for most students, in a non-pandemic year, this model will not work in the long term.

For some, though, this school year might actually save them. Students have one or two teachers all day long, which allow relationships to develop and environments to remain consistent. We think each teacher in the school can name a student that directly benefited from this model. It was this experience that led us to our desire to explore an idea, hopefully with the support of the Rowland Foundation.

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