ELIZABETH A. CONKEY
BENNINGTON -- A new state law requires all secondary students in Vermont, with help from their teachers and school faculty, to design "personal learning plans" based on their future goals and ambitions.
Come January, a group of Vermont educators that has been meeting regularly to discuss ways to carry out this legislation must decide how exactly to implement this law throughout the state.
The new PLP legislation, aimed at students in grades 7 through 12, works to partner the academic workload of Vermont students with their individual career goals and aspirations.
To aid districts in the implementation of the PLP legislation, the state has hired "Great Schools," an educational consulting firm based in Maine.
However, some Vermont schools, such as Mount Anthony Union High School, have already introduced similar programs into their daily schedules.
According to MAUHS Principal Sue Maguire, last year, the school completed a 10-year accreditation process through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
As a result of the accreditation program, MAUHS created what is known as the "Seminar Program," a program quite similar to the proposed PLPs, which allows students, under the guidance of teachers, to take charge of their learning and formulate course loads which center around their strengths and interests.
So, every day for the past three years, MAUHS students in groups of 10 to 12 have gathered with a single teacher or faculty member (the same one, until they reach their senior year) for 15 minutes a day to chat, check-in and brainstorm.
Maguire said the time is well spent as the students discuss what they want to be learning and what they would like to accomplish during their high school "career." They also have the opportunity to seek out extra help in subject areas in which they may be struggling.
"It’s really about relevance," Maguire said. "If students see that they’re working towards a particular goal, they’re more apt to actually be interested in it."
Katy Schonbeck, the head of MAU’s math department, said she thinks the seminar program has been a very successful addition to the MAU school day and curriculum.
Schonbeck, who normally has around 30 students in each of her math classes, said she enjoys the one-on-one time with her seminar program group.
"I’ve been able to connect with the students in my group on a different level," she said. "There’s no way I could do that with the students in my regular classes. I’d love to, I could try, but I just don’t have the time."
Schonbeck said the program also allows for teachers to hone in on students who may be having difficult days.
"If I notice a student seems a little ‘off,’ I can take that time to say, ‘Okay, how can I help,’" she said. "Seminar gives the adults in the building the chance to have a different kind of relationship with the students, not just a traditional academic relationship. It’s pretty amazing."
Schonbeck noted that the program, in her opinion, has not only helped students to hone in on their strengths and help in planning their futures, but has also positively impacted on MAU as a whole.
"I think the kids feel more connected with the adults in the building and with each other," she said. "The sense of community seems stronger."
Maguire said she expects MAU’s current seminar program to evolve come January, and also expects to see the program trickle down to the middle school level as well.
"I think our program is a good venue to start working toward what the state will be requiring," Maguire said. "We see what the criteria and expectations are and now we need to decide how we want to implement this as a district, not just here at MAU."
Schonbeck agreed, noting that once faculty and staff have the opportunity take a closer look at the legislation, they then can "tweak" their current program to fit any additional requirements.
"We’ve got a great start on this program," she said. "Now we can ask ourselves what we can do to make what we already have better. As is everything with education, it’s a work in progress."
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.