The Flexible Pathways Initiative was passed in 2013 and, among other things, establishes a way for students to explore their core subjects outside of a typical school environment by engaging in opportunities such as internships and hands-on work.
“It gives students different ways to reach graduation,” says senior Samantha Morse. “And it may not be the traditional setup of sit in a classroom and have a teacher in front of you. It gives students opportunities to go out in the community, work with people, do more advanced things, and make it more specialized to the way they learn.”
Wildcat Student Voice comprises seven students, with all four high school classes at Twin Valley represented. Principal Tom Fitzgerald and vice principal Lee Ann Monroe act as advisors to the group. “For us, this is all about giving the students a voice in the school and choice in their education,” says Fitzgerald.
The group has attended several facilitation training sessions, either in person in Montpelier or through video conference. They’ve also held several student and faculty events at the school in an effort to communicate what the Flexible Pathways Initiative is; to gauge how much students understand about the initiative; to hear the biggest concerns students have about learning engagement; and to talk about how the initiative could address those concerns.
“Students want more relevance in their learning,” said Morse. “They want to know why they’re learning what they’re learning and how they can apply it to real life.”
“We’ve learned with research that if you find relevance in what you’re learning you’re going to learn it faster,” says junior Mallory Bauer. “You’re going to learn it for longer, you’re going to know it, and it’s going to mean something. That’s what’s important to us as a group.”
Fitzgerald says there are six students at the school who are currently taking advantage of the Flexible Pathways Initiative.
“They’re in internships in anything from working in elementary schools to Stratton Mountain’s EMT program,” says Fitzgerald. “Part of this is educating kids to say, ‘Oh, you could do this!’ For example, we have one student who is really into making maple sugar. I said, you realize you could do an internship around sugaring and there’s science you could do in there, there’s writing you could do, there’s math. So, it’s about getting kids to think about how what they do outside of school can apply to what they do in school and vice versa.”
For students who are currently sophomores, juniors or seniors, hands-on experience through Flexible Pathways Initiative allows a student to earn a credit on his or her transcript. For this year’s freshman class, though, the Flexible Pathways Initiative could play a more integral role in their educational journeys. This year’s freshman class is the first at the school to be engaged in a proficiency-based learning model.
“The state of Vermont has us moving away from saying it takes 27 and a half credits to graduate and you need four credits in this, four in that,” says Fitzgerald. “The state has come up with a list of what they call PBGRs, which are proficiency-based graduation requirements. We have to figure out how kids meet those requirements. So, for example, no longer does a report card say ‘English 9’ with a grade. Instead, it has 10 to 12 learning targets and students get evaluated based on those.”
Fitzgerald says that in the proficiency-based model, “no longer is a C good enough.” If a student isn’t proficient in an area, he or she engages in continual learning about that subject until they become proficient.
“I think it’s really valuable,” says Bauer, who as a junior has always followed a credits-based model. “For me, if I fail a test, I don’t then get to go back and learn that thing. Obviously if I failed, I don’t understand it, and that’s not helpful for me. But with proficiency-based learning, if you show that you can’t do it, you do it again and again until you prove you can do it.”
The Flexible Pathways Initiative has the potential to support a proficiency-based learning model by giving students out-of-the-box ways to explore, understand, and apply concepts. “For teachers, the proficiency-based model is really different,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s no longer, well I taught it and you didn’t get it. Now it’s, how do I re-teach it, or how do we find another way for you to understand that concept?”
Several of the students in Wildcat Student Voice say that the driving force behind being a part of the group is helping their fellow students to become more engaged with learning.
“I didn’t like to see people just bored sitting in classes asking, ‘Why are we doing this?’” says junior Dylan King. “I felt like that needed to change.”
“I agree,” says senior Thomas Marchionna. “I have friends who hate sitting in class - sometimes I hate sitting in class! - and I want to see education go away from teaching to a test.”
Morse agrees, and says she also hopes to help forge change for the future.
“I have nephews who are 7, 5, and 1 1/2,” says Morse. “Knowing that I can change the way they learn and the way they’re going to go through their high school careers is super rewarding for me. Knowing that I’m not only helping out students now but also generations to come. It’s only going to get better. Education is important. It’s what carries your future. It’s your foundation, and if you don’t have a strong foundation, you’re not going to be able to build a house on it. It’s super important.”
Those who would like information about Wildcat Student Voice may visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wildcatstudentvoice.