The Agency of Education has awarded $50,000 to four Vermont high schools to bolster community awareness of new learning opportunities recently adopted by state lawmakers.
Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon, Twinfield Union School in Marshfield, Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg and Colchester High School each received $12,500 for a year’s worth of work to implement community outreach efforts under Act 77.
In each of the four schools, said Debi Price, the agency project manager, students and teachers will partner to build community involvement in and awareness of the nontraditional education opportunities — such as personalized learning plans, online courses and outside internships — that Act 77 encourages.
During the year-long course, in which students can receive class credit, students and teachers will collaborate to develop innovative ways to communicate with those invested in local education: parents, school boards, local businesses and community members. The groups will include a minimum of two high school juniors and two teachers — the AOE emphasizes the one-to-one balance of students and teachers — who will meet regularly outside of school hours.
Act 77, which was passed in 2013, established the “Flexible Pathways Initiative” within the state’s Agency of Education, meant to encourage alternative approaches to education. The measure promotes opportunities for students to take college courses and seek outside internships, and will help schools “acknowledge individual goals, learning styles, and abilities,” the bill states, through personalized learning plans for every Vermont student in grades seven through 12. By the fall of 2015, schools will need to be have personalized learning plans for students in grades seven and nine.
Helen Beattie, of UP for Learning in East Hardwick, originally approached the AOE with the proposal for the course as a method of communication and student empowerment. Beattie has been working with Jane Feinberg of Full Frame Communications in Massachusetts, and Daniel Baron, from the national School Project Foundation, as well as Price and the AOE to help facilitate the collaborative process.
For the schools, Price said, the results might include public service announcements, news releases or increased contact with media. There will be several conferences with all four schools, Beattie, Feinberg and Baron, and members of the AOE. There will be webinars, trainings and community forums “to help inform people what’s going in the school,” Price said.
“It’s really looking at how this transforming schools, and how are communities coming to understand the need to redesign our schools,” she said.
One requirement of the grant is that schools share all of the resources and strategies they develop.
“This is really a pilot, what we learn will be transferable in the future,” Price said.
Mark Mooney, principal of Twinfield Union School, said that starting next year, Twinfield will hold classes four days a week, with a full day for internships and other work beyond the school day. It will use the grant, in part, to help bring the local communities on board.
“We want to use student voice to bring the message to our community as to why schools move forward and transform,” Mooney said. Students and staff will meet biweekly, he said, and will be “working collectively to craft our message to our community.”
Though the grant is framed around Act 77 outreach, the implications of the work are much broader, Price said.
“Often when we’re thinking about (community) engagement, we’re thinking about how we share information with folks,” she said. “This is more about a process so that there’s open dialogue, so that there’s a shared understanding that’s being created.
“I see this as enhancing the partnership between community and students and teachers.”