Working to meet the needs of all learners at CVU

By the CVU School Board

Have you known a high school student who, at the end of four years, with graduation around the corner, suddenly appears to “wake up” in surprise to a looming reality of life after high school? Are you concerned when you see teenagers going through the motions to satisfy graduation requirements, out of touch with who they are, how they are motivated and in what ways they see themselves fitting into the world?

Transcending gender, socioeconomic level and academic performance, these concerns are not new at Champlain Valley Union High School. Grad Challenge is an example of a program that aims to help students learn deeply about themselves through a project that requires them to take control of a learning experience: directing the what, why, where and when. Another example is Advisory, a program that works to ensure that each student is “well known” by at least one adult in the building.

Recent state legislation, however, has provided us with an opportunity to expand our work on such student-centered learning. In June 2013, Act 77, which includes Education Quality Standards, was signed into law. This legislation requires that all Vermont schools implement Personalized Learning Plans, known as PLPs, beginning with grades 7 and 9 in 2015. CVU believes that, if implemented well, PLPs can be effective tools that can help students know themselves, take responsibility for their learning and begin to develop a vision for their futures after high school. PLPs present the opportunity to shift the learning culture not only at CVU, but, indeed, throughout the entire Chittenden South Supervisory Union in time.

What do PLPs look like? This is actually the work in which our district is presently engaged. A large group of CSSU professionals and administrators from every CSSU school (and 21 other school districts throughout the state) are attending in-depth learning workshops facilitated by the Great Schools Partnership and supported by an Agency of Education grant. This yearlong experience is aimed specifically at the implementation of PLPs and proficiency (standards) based learning, both state mandates.

It is likely, though, that PLPs will consist of the following steps: building a self profile (who am i?); identifying personal goals; making a plan; implementing the plan; assessing goals; reflecting on goals; and, finally, revising goals, as students engage in new experiences and mature. Goals can be short or long-term; they can be personal choice or required. The PLP itself might take the form of a paper or virtual portfolio. No matter what, the PLP should be viewed as a living document that is reviewed and updated regularly with caring adults who can support student goals. The purpose of the PLP is not to find a major or identify a career after high school. It is to help students internalize the process by which one knows oneself and can envision specific steps to achieve personal goals—a lifelong and transferable skill.

We are excited by the prospects offered by the PLP, but, as the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” The Agency of Education agrees, noting that the PLP “is only as good as the process that supports the development and use of the document.” We look forward to keeping you informed about the development of the PLP, with stories from students and parents. In the meantime, we hope you agree that PLPs are a positive step away from the one size fits all model of secondary education to a model of education that meets the needs of all learners.

Williston representatives to the CVU School Board include Jeanne Jensen, Polly Malik and Gene McCue.