CVU leaders look to embed project-based learning

Scheduling logistics put plan off to 2019

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Champlain Valley Union High School currently dabbles in personalized, experience-based learning opportunities with its semester-long Nexus course and agriculturally focused sustainability hub.

But two CVU educators, working with a $75,000 grant from the Rowland Foundation, are designing a plan that would embed project-based learning into the curriculum for every student with weekly opportunities to work on projects of their choosing.

Their RISE (Reflective Interest-based Student Experiences) plan was originally slated to begin next school year. But more time is needed to finalize a workable schedule, the educators — Abbie Bowker and Peter Langella — said during a recent presentation to the Champlain Valley School Board.

“The schedule … probably raises some anxiety for our faculty,” Bowker said.

In lieu of full implementation, Bowker and Langella are proposing a two-week pilot program for next school year as a step toward full implementation in 2019.

The initiative is aligned with Vermont Act 77, passed in 2013, which directs the Agency of Education to encourage and support “flexible pathways” to graduation.

“Every (school district) is at their own place in this journey and figuring out what they need to do to move forward,” Champlain Valley School District Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said.

The RISE program would depend on teachers to devote time to project-based learning in traditional classroom settings as well as partnerships with the greater community to provide off-campus learning opportunities.

“These experiences can open up students in ways that a conventional model might not,” Bowker said. “When they have that experience, students usually want more.”

“The possibilities become almost endless,” Langella added, “as long as we can match up a student with a faculty member who can facilitate that learning for them.”

Bowker and Langella plan to survey CVU teachers this spring about what skills they have that may be outside of their typical subject area that they can offer for project-based learning.

“You can do it and still do class,” Langella said. “We can find a way to make them co-exist without competing with each other.”

“It will set us up for the capacity to have all students have agency in their education,” he added.

The Rowland Foundation is based in South Londonderry and provides professional and leadership development grants to Vermont teachers.

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