Imagine U-32 as a ski mountain. Everyone begins at the top of the mountain, and decides to take a path to the bottom. Along the way, there may be jumps to overcome or a smooth trail down. Either way, “everybody has to get down the mountain, and once you get to the parking lot it’s wherever you go next,” said U-32 Student Services Director Lisa LaPlante.
In LaPlante’s “five year vision” for the school, students would have the opportunity to determine the path best suited for them. She explained that “along the way the teachers are sort of the ski patrol,” so that “if you fall down or hit a tree or you hit a roadblock, there’s someone there to help you.”
When LaPlante first began at U-32 ten years ago, she said “it was pretty clear that we have kids who school is painful for, doesn’t work for, who drop out, who leave us, who don’t make it through.” For these students, she asked, “How do we then get them educated, give them what they need, and send them on their way so they’re successful, and so school is not painful?” Working with other Vermont schools, she was able to help implement the Pilot program.
Now, with the shift to proficiencies, she sees a perfect opportunity for the whole school to adopt a system where kids can learn in the way that works best for them. She explained that “we will no longer have the Pilot program or Branching Out. It will just be a flexible pathway.”
This new system would also address an issue prevalent since LaPlante was in school. “I think back to my history class… and whether I got a good grade in history class,” she said, “I got a good grade, but I remembered none of it.” So the question is “how do you take the information and do something with it, not just memorize and regurgitate it?”
LaPlante’s solution to this issue lies within her vision for the school under the new proficiencies system. With her vision, “you can study opera and show us how you’re going to use that through effective and expressive communication,” which is one of our new proficiency requirements. This would ultimately give students more freedom in what and how they wish to learn, and would hopefully increase student performance, attendance, and excitement to learn.
Of course, students probably won’t be able to come into their freshman year taking entirely flexible classes. In order to make sure that students really are following the best path for them, she envisions a semester long course that students would have to take before doing anything flexible.
LaPlante, using flexible PE as an example, says, “I get up every morning and I go on a four-mile walk/run … How would I prove to you that that happens? Would I wear a heart monitor? Would I get affidavits from my neighbors because they see the crazy lady with her lights walking by in the pitch black?”
The course she envisions would teach students how to address this, and “how to write a learning plan, how it is you learn independently, and what the expectations are.”
If LaPlante’s vision is adopted by the school, she believes it could be implemented as early as 2021.