A Look at Personalization Through Mount Abraham’s Pathways Program

It is nearly impossible to discuss education today without mentioning personalization. Act 77, also known as the Flexible Pathways Initiative Bill was signed into law in June of 2013. This bill will require all Vermont students grades 7 through 12 to have personalized learning plans by November of 2015. But what will that look like? What schools are already well on their way to meeting this goal?

One program that offers a glimpse into effective blended learning is the Mount Abraham Pathways program. Mount “Abe” is a medium-sized high school located in Bristol, Vermont with approximately 500 students. The pathways program is open to all students for either part of a their day or their whole day. It is housed in a corner of the school in what looks like a computer lab with some well lived in comfy furniture.

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Currently approximately 25% of the students participate at some level in Pathways. Director Caroline Camara was quick to add that there was no “one” type of student in their program. The personalization of learning appealed to students at all levels and with a wide range of aspirations.

Regardless of whether students are part-time or full time with Pathways, they have certain parameters that surround their work. Students are paired with a community resource for their internships and learning, and they all present their learning at least once each semester to an audience of teachers, students, their parents and community members. Their work is tied to the graduate expectations to demonstrate proficiencies as well.

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In December, I had the opportunity to visit Mount Abe and observe two students practice their presentations. The first, a sophomore, was a part-time student in the program. His personalized learning was focused on learning everything imaginable about golf while still taking traditional courses such as Spanish with his Mount Abe classmates.

The second student was Brian, a senior this year. He has been a full time pathways student since ninth grade. He admitted when he first arrived in ninth grade he didn’t look forward to coming to school and wasn’t 100% sure he would have been on track to graduate if it weren’t for the pathways program. His presentation about his work with fire and rescue left me speechless. He related the graduate expectations to his course work eloquently.

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He had earned national certifications, consulted with the school nurse about health policy, and was recognized by the school as a “go to” person for fire and safety. He had demonstrated, literacy, math, and presentational skills with the finesse of a seasoned adult, showing charts, reflections and zen style presentational slides that were easily on par with college students.

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What was most impressive was the feedback session after the trial presentation between Brian and his audience (three adults and a student).
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The collaboration between adults and students was more akin to the relationships found on a learning team than to any traditional classroom. Elements of design thinking, collaboration, reflection and trust were all evident as they shared thoughts on how he could move his presentation even farther forward. In the end, there were hugs and high fives, and I think a few tears at seeing how far this boy, who once considered leaving school, had come. I was immediately sold.

If you are interested in learning more about the Pathways program, I would recommend John H. Clarke’s recent book on the Pathways program entitled Personalized Learning: Student Designed Pathways to High School Graduation.

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