BENNINGTON — This year marks the first time seventh graders have been required to produce personal learning plans, under Act 77 of 2013, also known as the Flexible Pathways Act. But, in Bennington at least, the test run is going better than could have been expected, thanks in large part to collaboration between two local educational institutions.
Seventh grade students from Mount Anthony Union Middle School's White Rocks team have been working with student-mentors from Bennington College on creating their plans. The middle school students interviewed the college students about their own stories and career goals, wrote letters, and eventually held one-on-one meetings with their mentors. They also took a field trip to Bennington College, where they got to see the campus and meet college President Mariko Silver.
The partnership began when Susan Sgorbati, Bennington College's director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, volunteered to participate in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union's Act 77 planning committee.
"When I heard about Act 77," she said, "I thought, Bennington College has been doing the planning process since '72, maybe we could have a conversation that would be useful." She worked with MAUMS teacher Amy Moriarty to create a program out of those conversations.
Under Act 77, starting in seventh grade this year, all public school students in Vermont will develop, with the help of an advisor from the school and their parents, a PLP that will be updated at least annually.
"The plan shall be developmentally appropriate and shall reflect the student's emerging abilities, aptitude, and disposition," reads the law, "The plan shall define the scope and rigor of academic and experiential opportunities necessary for a secondary student to complete secondary school successfully, attain postsecondary readiness, and be prepared to engage actively in civic life."
One of the primary ideas behind the plans is to get students thinking about what their lives after high school will look like as early as possible. Sgorbati said that was one of the program's greatest successes. "The seventh graders are very thoughtful," she said, "they have a lot of insight. Their education is something they're thinking very seriously about."
On Tuesday, state Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, visited MAUMS to learn about the collaboration and hear students' opinions on their PLPs.
"People your age, throughout the state, are some of the first ones to use this, and we hope it will become a really useful tool," he said. He asked several of the students about the contents of their plans, and if their goals had changed a lot since they first began writing them in the fall.
"This is exciting, this is exactly what we'd hoped would happen," said Campion after speaking to the students, "There's something very important happening here, where young people are connecting with college students early on."
He said he hopes the partnership could become a model for other schools in the state. He credited Moriarty for getting kids thinking about their career plans by speaking to people from different professions, and giving them the opportunity to explore a college campus. Getting students onto college campuses at a young age is important, he said, because some begin to consider that maybe college could be for them.
Sgorbati also credited MAUMS principal Tim Payne for the school's success in implementing Act 77. "He's very visionary about education," she said.
Both Sgorbati and the MAUMS administration said they were looking forward to continuing and expanding on this program in the years to come.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.