How do schools deal with students like "Corry?" He is a self-described "real Vermonter" who dropped out of a favorite forestry class because the teacher made him take off his hat. Corry hunts coyotes for bounty and talks poetically about being in the woods at dusk as the deer come out. He is by no means an underachiever; he wants his high school diploma, but can't stand to be in school.
I write individualized graduation plans for students who need alternative routes to earning their high school diploma at Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) in Middlebury. As a High School Completion Plan Manager of ACT 176, I've come to realize that helping Corry earn his high school diploma is the easy part. What he really needs is a community mentora game warden or a professional taxidermistsomebody who can show him that there is work to be had doing the things that he loves.
Being connected and finding work is especially hard for students who have tenuous relationships with their schools and who have no job experience or soft skills training. Most of my students in Addison County want to be connected to those around them and they want to have a job, but they do not have basic training in networking, job searching or communication.
As a 2012 Rowland Fellow, I plan to design internship opportunities for VAL students so they can earn school creditand moneywhile learning professional skills that will nurture their passions and help them succeed after graduation. I want to set up cooperative learning opportunities within the Addison County community wherein a student can shadow, intern, and apprentice with an organization while earning high school credit for his or her experiences. The ultimate goal is to get students like Corry connected to his community and prepared for a life of work and self sufficiency after he graduates.
In some students' minds school is a waste of time. School has become an environment of unconnected and unrelated disciplines or content. In addition, students are learning more about themselves and their futures outside of the school building. Danville School realizes that it needs to connect students to personal learning plans as not only a part of an alternative means to graduation but also as a means to show that school is relevant to their futures.
One's high school education should not be viewed as a four year prison sentence! It is not a time for holding students, but to engage with them to find their individual journey and prepare them for their futures. Our project involves transforming our high school program to support personalized learning plans where students are creating their own path and building individualized educational opportunities between themselves and their community with their futures in mind.
As a 2012 Rowland Fellow, I will expand my knowledge and experience to create a vibrant, relevant, and authentic learning environment for all of our students. Working with the faculty teams, the guidance counselor, the community, the students, the parents, and the administration I envision a shift from the traditional educational delivery system where students choose a high school track, follow the course selections diligently, move through the building as the class bells ring and the semesters change, and prepare for their futures sometimes only marginally, to a new model where students are purposefully creating their own pathways to graduation and discovering their passions, interests, strengths, weaknesses and directly focusing on the knowledge and skills that they will need to succeed in their futures.
Back in 2011 I wrote that we had rather apathetic students who found school lacking. However, the advisory program at Danville and the wonderful educators in our building have rejuvenated our learners. Danville has been able to bring our students' passions and interests back into the curriculum and that Herculean act has reignited interest in learning and connecting.
Our advisory program has become the vehicle that we use to steer students on their individualized pathways. With Act 77 our school's advisory program was given a clear direction. Every student at Danville has a Google site learning plan. Each advisor - through our students' learning plans - can support our students socially, emotionally, and academically to ensure that their pathway arrives at their intended destination.
In the spring our students receive a survey asking which classes they most need to get where they are going. Our teachers then ensure that they have a class that can support these students or a non-traditional course is found -whether online or self-directed. The Danville High School program of studies goes home before April vacation so students can choose which courses they feel they will need. Guidance meets individually with each student to make that plan happen.
Students at Danville are purposefully creating their own pathways with assistance from their advisors, teachers, and guidance. Our Rowland Fellowship really did make transformation possible.
Rarely is life so segmented as it is in our current school design with each subject existing in a vacuum. When they are grown up, our students will work together in collaborative groups as they link their learning together, considering the past, mistakes, and the future. As a history and civics teacher, I believe that students must understand the world in which they live - locally, regionally, and globally. They must be global citizens, understanding different cultures and beliefs, engaging in their communities, advocating for their positions, and participating in the democratic process. Given this reality, I will spend my fellowship developing a Global Studies program for Rutland High School.
This program will provide students a chance to learn in the way they will live their lives. Relevance in skills and content is central to a Global Studies program. Now, students are rarely asked to link their education together, or to work together and solve meaningful problems - problems that exist in their local communities as well as in the wider world. Students will learn how to become responsible global citizens. A Global Studies program will prepare students to be active citizens, regardless of whether they become diplomats in another country or teachers in Rutland County.
Global Studies at Rutland High School is centered on the importance of developing active global citizens among all RHS students, though particularly those who opt to complete the Global Studies Concentration. Global citizenship at RHS means investigate the world, recognize varied perspectives, communicate their ideas in different ways, and take action on global issues that are important to them. It also means that students develop dispositions of a global citizen, including intellectual curiosity, ethical behavior, social responsibility, and appreciation of culture and diversity.
The RHS understanding of global citizenship is the basis for the Global Studies Concentration. Beginning with the class of 2015, students can elect to pursue the concentration, which includes some required core courses, elective courses, global service, and participation in global co-curricular activities. The concentration culminates in the Global Studies Capstone Seminar. In this course, students spend the entire semester researching a global issue they are interested in and then presenting their learning and work to take action and solve the issue. The products the students present reflect all of the aspects of global citizenship that the concentration develops.
The Global Studies program continues to expand beyond the concentration. This year, we hosted a Global Issues Network Conference, only the 3rd held in an American school, as a way to expose all students in the region to global issues and get them to take action on pressing global issues. In addition, we are working to develop partnerships with multiple schools abroad that would allow students to interact with their counterparts in classes as well as during school trips. Through the concentration, classes, and conference, what it means to be a global citizen and active participant in a global society provides students with a way to make their learning relevant and connect them to others.
Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School is poised for transformation. We have pockets of innovation from Pathways and electronic portfolios (for students) to Grade Level Friends (for teachers). Our three guiding principles are Student-Centered Learning, Multiple Pathways to Graduation, and Standards Based Assessments. Although our teachers know the school is changing, they don't yet see what the re-imagined school might look like. Many are wondering, "What does it mean for me? What will happen to my curriculum?" Laura and Lauren will be agents of change, making the theory visible, both by personalizing professional development and creating the physical space for it.
We will be using the funding from the Rowland Foundation to transform our school library into a full service library media center. As our school moves forward in its own transformation efforts, our intention is to develop the library so that it serves as a centrifugal point for professional development, collaboration, and student exploration. Our vision is that when a teacher signs up for time in the library with their class, they will be signing up for collaboration as well. Each teacher will work with both the technology integration specialist (Lauren Parren) and the library media specialist (Laura Mina) to create student centered learning experiences. These learning experiences will be formed around the individual teacher's content and will integrate technology, research skills, and opportunities for students to creatively show what they know. Our goal is to act as a solid link between the school's initiatives, teacher implementation, and student growth. We will provide professional development programs to support the former and lesson planning and team teaching to support the latter. In order to carry out our plan, we will conduct research, visit schools and libraries, and develop a new library floor plan that will accommodate transformation.
Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School continues its sprint towards personalization with growing implementation for both students and teachers. Over 25% of our student body now accesses opportunities available through the Personal Learning Department. Mt. Abe teachers are assessing student learning through the lens of our 5 School-Wide Competencies which will play a pivotal role as our district moves towards multiple pathways to graduation. Analytic rubrics and student-centered invitational rubrics are being developed across all disciplines. As students are taking control of their learning it is becoming increasingly clear that learners need new skills in accessing information and in sharing their new knowledge with the outside world. The opportunities, facilities, and technology we now offer through our Library Commons are becoming increasingly relevant to our population.
Thanks to the Rowland Fellowship, the Mt. Abraham Library has been physically re-worked into a Commons and now features a variety of zones, reflecting the archetypical spaces of a campfire, cave, and wateringhole. In Fall 2014 we will be re-launching the space with the addition of a cafe aptly named "The Eaglet" and serving students and faculty in true watering hole fashion. This spring (2014) saw the launch of our digital presence through the Library's new website and digital curation platform. This resource will not only allow all of our patrons to access well-selected content and flipped library components 24/7, it will serve as an essential tool in the collaborative and interdisciplinary work we will be doing with Mt. Abe teachers beginning in the fall. A newly created research space allows teachers and their classes to work in conjunction with L and L, directly implementing innovative practices developed collaboratively. Computers and charging stations now are continually accessible on the library floor, something necessary for learning and collaborating in the modern world. The Professional Development Space we originally proposed is now called The Innovation Space and will be made available to faculty and staff throughout the district the professional learning opportunities we offer; learning will be personalized for teachers and students alike.
My project is to launch a virtual global campus for Essex High School and a sister francophone school that will support ground-based as well as online learning. In the virtual environment, students, parents and teachers will sign on concurrently, step onto a virtual campus, and participate in a virtual cultural exchange. The virtual environment will enrich foreign language instruction; integrate other academic disciplines; engage our Nextgen learners; possess the potential to include other Vermont high schools; and generally serve as a bridge to a truly global learning community.
Following a year of development in the U.S., France and Belgium, Virtual Intercultural Avenues (VIA) was implemented in 2013. VIA is a web-based portal and suite of tools designed to support students' foreign language learning and acquisition of cultural knowledge. Designed for students across all socioeconomic levels, VIA's objective is to increase the global competitiveness of Vermont high school students at a time when international economic competition is greater than ever. Virtual Intercultural Avenues leverages technology enablers and virtual environments to support learner and teacher effectiveness. Key components of the portal feature a virtual meeting room (where classes, students and even parents can meet), VIA Venues (an international virtual library), Vimeo (a video-sharing platform for student-produced videos), VIA Conversations (an international blogger), an interactive digital foreign language curriculum, and a VIA Twitter feed. VIA has already reached 4 countries, 8 cities, 15 schools, 25 teachers, and 1500 students. Growing rapidly, VIA Conversations, VIA's blogger, has achieved 12,000 views in only one year, and VIA's Vimeo albums have had more than 1500 views. As part of the ongoing effort to refine and render VIA more effective, VIA won a grant from Essex, Vermont's Rotary Club; hosted a delegation of teachers from France; welcomed a second group of teachers from Brussels, Belgium; and organized a visit to Essex for 20 students and their teachers from France for 10 days-in the first ground exchange to evolve from the virtual exchange. VIA continues to serve as a bridge to a truly global learning community for educators and students.