Act 77: Flexible Pathways strives to bring the highest quality educational experience to all young people in Vermont. It highlights the importance of real-life opportunities, the power of a personal learning plan for each student, the chance to take both virtual and college level courses while in high school, and offers meaningful career development and post-secondary planning for every student. This legislation was passed into law in July of 2013 to ensure that all Vermont students have access to high-quality educational experiences that best prepare them for life after graduation.
In the words of the Agency of Education, “We are placing students at the center of the construction and implementation of their own learning experience. Our role as educators is to facilitate that experience in a way that maximizes the opportunities for students… to graduate college and career ready.”
Act 77 consists of high-quality academic and experiential components leading to high school completion and postsecondary readiness. They include community-based learning, internships, college courses, online coursework, independent studies, and career and technical education. A student’s choice of his or her individual “pathway” will be built upon individual goals, learning styles, interests, and abilities. The “pathway” will be captured in a “Personalized Learning Plan” (PLP) that is co-created on an annual basis by the student, teachers and parents/guardians. This plan will evolve over the course of the student’s middle and high school years. There will be as many pathways as there are Vermont students, each customized to create the most enriching set of experiences for each respective student.
All students in grades 7 and 9 will have Personalized Learning Plans by November of 2015. By the 2018-19 school year, all students in grades 7 through 12 will have PLPs. Personalized learning and instructional approaches are also acknowledged as critical from kindergarten through grade six as well.
Act 77 has identified the following examples of types of experiences that may be included in a PLP, in addition to classroom course work, designed to create opportunities for students to pursue flexible pathways to graduation:
- Applied or work-based learning opportunities, including career and career technical education, internships and community-based learning options.
- Virtual learning and blended learning opportunities that take advantage of technology to expand the range of learning experiences and enhance personalization.
- Dual enrollment opportunities, in which college courses are made available to high school juniors and seniors. Students participating in dual enrollment receive both high school and college credit for the given course. Eligible students may access up to two vouchers for use at participating colleges.
- The Early College Program, which enables students to simultaneously complete their 12th grade experience, earn a secondary diploma, and complete the first year of college. The Vermont Academy of Science and Technology has historically offered this option. Other post secondary public and private institutions are now encouraged to develop similar programs.
Students, teachers and parents/legal guardians all participate in the creation and evolution of a student’s Personalized Learning Plan. They work together to assess and design the best path to graduation based on the student’s evolving interests and goals. Educators serve as guides in this process, helping students choose opportunities grounded in their knowledge of post secondary school and career preparation.
In the late 60s, The Vermont State Board of Education and Commissioner Harvery Scribner created the The Vermont Design for Education. The designed took the position that, although these are certainly justifiable concerns, an educational philosophy should center around and focus upon the individual, his learning process, and his relationship and interaction with the teacher. Toward these ends, the design offered several key tenets taken in summation, constitute a goal, an ideal, a student-centered philosophy for the process of education in Vermont.
In the fall of 2013, the “Communicating School Redesign through the Youth-Adult Partnership Lens” (CSR) course was created by UP for Learning and Full Frame Communications to help Vermont’s “Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together” member schools better communicate their school change efforts. This course seeded youth – adult teams from S. Burlington High School-Big Picture (SBHS), Harwood, Peoples Academy (PA) and Hazen Union enrolled in this innovative course because they were all committed to creating school readiness for Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs), a change that requires a strong communications strategy. Jane Feinberg of Full Frame Communications, a nationally known communications expert, provided a research-based road map for this work. UP for Learning was at the ready to support the journey with expertise in youth-adult partnership and dialogue for change.
In an exploratory conversation with Vermont’s Deputy Commissioner of Education John Fisher and AOE Act 77 coordinator Debi Price, the need surfaced for a statewide approach to communicating this new legislation, mirroring our course efforts. In the ensuing early winter months, a partnership was formed between Full Frame Communications, UP for Learning, and The School Project Foundation (SPF), to craft a Vermont communications implementation plan. Funding commitments from the Nellie Mae Educational Foundation, the Bay and Paul Foundations, and the AOE were secured. The Vermont School Board Association joined as a strong collaborator due to the fact that this work supports their “Vision for a World Class Education.” In the spring of 2014, through a competitive grant process, three new schools received AOE support to be part of this second wave of training and communications development: Colchester High School, Otter Valley High School, and Twinfield Union. Two of this year’s CSR schools, Harwood and Hazen Union, will be funded to continue their work through the Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together initiative, creating a two-year capacity building aspect in this evolving model. Efforts have been documented and evaluated collaboratively by the AOE and Pennsylvania State University. This is the first statewide communications effort of this depth and breadth in the nation. It includes young people in all phases of its evolution, moving youth-adult partnership to the heart of current school remodeling efforts statewide. The process of doing our work is as important as the products and outcomes it produces. In this, UP for Learning continues its commitment to Gandhi’s precept: “The means are the ends in action.”