BENNINGTON >> On Thursday, Bennington College hosted a symposium on Act 77, "The Flexible Pathways Act," at the Center for the Advancement of Public Action.
Presenters included State Senator Brian Campion, Flexible Pathways Coordinator at the Agency of Education Veronica Newton, Agency of Education Division Director Jess DeCarolis, Mount Anthony Union High School Principal Glenda Cresto, MAU Middle School Principal Tim Payne, Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Curriculum Director Laura Boudreau, and MAUHS sophomore Chris Mayer.
Act 77 was passed in 2013, with the goals, as written in the Act, "to encourage and support the creativity of school districts as they develop and expand high-quality educational experiences that are an integral part of secondary education in the evolving 21st Century classroom; to promote opportunities for Vermont students to achieve postsecondary readiness through high-quality educational experiences that acknowledge individual goals, learning styles, and abilities; and to increase the rates of secondary school completion and postsecondary continuation in Vermont."
"This is not just inserting a small change into a school," said Cresto, "This is completely changing the way we do school. It's like re-building a school from the bottom up to really pull all of these pieces together."
Part of the process involves working with every student in grades seven through twelve in developing a personalized learning plan, that incorporates their interests, abilities, and goals into a plan for their high school career, including courses, internships, and extracurricular activities.
Bennington Select Board member Donald Campbell, who was in the audience, asked the administrators if kids were locked into a career path they chose in middle school, or if the plans were flexible, allowing for students to change their minds.
"The plan at the middle school is not a contract," said Payne, "We don't hold you to what you aspired to be. I think the more important thing about Act 77 is starting the conversation... It gets them thinking about what they aspire to be. We're not creating a six-year plan for our kids where we say, in your senior year you're going to take this class. We're just trying to have a conversation with kids. Have you thought about what you're interested in, and how can we help you?"
"We need to remember that the overarching theme here is proficiency-based graduation," said Payne, "It's really, in my opinion, a radical change, as we move away from 'You shall have four years of English, and three years of math, and three years of science, and three years of social studies.' Instead, we're being very clear with the kids, that we need you to demonstrate these standards, and we're giving you a variety of ways to get there."
"Act 77 can be a little daunting to a building," said Payne, crediting his teacher leadership team with helping implement the changes.
For high school students, Act 77 includes increased opportunities in the form of dual enrollment and early college programs. Through those programs, according to CCV Bennington Coordinator of Academic Services and member of the Bennington Select Board Jeannie Jenkins, 67 high school students will be taking college courses at CCV Bennington this semester.
"We are a community that really benefits from having several institutions of higher learning in our community," said Payne, "There are many communities that don't have that. (The Community College of Vermont) partners with the high school, allowing students to take courses, that's a huge asset to us. (Southern Vermont College) has volunteered to connect our students with their students, and of course, Bennington College." Susan Sgorbati of Bennington College and her students worked with MAUMS students last year to help develop their PLPs.
For more information on Act 77, visit the Agency of Education's website, education.vermont.gov.
Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.