“The strategies and concepts I learned today will help set the foundation for a powerful change in my school”. This was one student’s reflection at the close of the October 9 state-wide conference entitled, “Bridges to Partnership: Youth and Adults Learning New Skills to Redesign Schools. Youth-adult teams from eight Vermont high schools joined a team representing five New York City high schools, a Lowell, Massachusetts high school alternative program, two faculty from Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, Colorado, and a number of Agency of Education staff to explore simple yet powerful tools to elevate student voice in learning and educational change efforts.
Keynote speaker Dr. Margery Ginsberg defined her framework and emphasized the importance of identifying rigor, relevance, relationships and shared responsibility in our schools. Dr. Ginsberg was the recent recipient the “Relating Research to Practice” national award. Her youth and adult facilitation team shared their expertise in weaving student voice into the process of high school redesign. Teams dispersed to one of three workshops: Data-in-a-Day, Shadowing Students as a Pathway to Partnership or Elevating Student Feedback in Instructional Design.
Participants left this skill-building day having gained valuable tools to jumpstart the implementation of flexible pathways and personalized learning plans, putting students at the center of their learning. Importantly, students themselves will be catalysts for these changes. In the words of one youth participant, “This was a great conference and a way to reach out to others and learn more skills, not just concepts - learning skills is the key to being successful. We understand the concepts, now let’s make them happen.”
The Bridges to Partnership conference was organized by the UP for Learning organization (Unleashing the Power of Partnership for Learning) and the Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together initiative, with funding from the Vermont Agency of Education.
Looking for resources from the Bridges to Partnership Conference? Find the information from the three workshops on our Resources page!
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 -- 9:00am-2:30pm
Registration begins at 8:30am
This fall state-wide conference bridges theory and practice to engage youth and educators as partners in high school redesign efforts. It provides reasons, inspiration and tools for school communities to look at instruction through the lends of student motivation and to work with youth to improve it. Youth-adult teams will leave with:
1) Three concrete strategies to take youth-adult partnerships for school improvement to the net level:
- Data-in-a-Day (DIAD) Walk-Through Process
- Shadowing Students
- Elevating Student Feedback in Instructional Design (Instructional memos to teachers & student lesson plan feedback)
2) An implementation plan for these strategies as part of your school's comtinuous improvement and as a means to iimplement flexible pathways and personalized learning plan efforts
3) Skills to train others in observing rigor, relevance, student-teacher relationships and shared responsibility in the classroom.
These strategies were developed by Dr. Margery Ginsberg and implemented in a number of schools, including Cleveland High School, which has served as a "learning laboratory" for development of innovative practices for many years. She will be bringing the Dean of Students of Cleveland High School, two student leaders and woman pursuing her doctorate in youth-adult partnership as her co- facilitation team.
Dr. Ginsberg recently received the American Educational Research Association "Relating Research to Practice" national award, which was last awarded to Linda Darliing-Hammond. In her words, "Human beings bring their innate curiosity to all learning experience....Motivation is like a cork rising in water. It is extremely difficult to suppress."
The full conference flyer, including registration link, can be found at: bridgesconfoct2013-webFINAL.pdf
Teachers-student teams from a number of YATST schools will undertake this year long action research course, to 1) research the youth perspective on proposed transformative practices (i.e. personalized learning plans, flexible pathways, proficiency-based graduation requirements, performance-based assessment), and 2) design materials and methods to share these practices with students, teachers and the community at large. They will also be creating a video and a traveling display that captures the fundamental rightness of youth-adult partnership - the paradigm shift which grounds all our work. Teachers engaged in this course will receive graduate credit from St. Michael's College, while students will take it as a dual enrollment course, receiving both high school and Burlington College credit. We will walk the talk of youth-adult partnership in the very design of our efforts. The course curriculum will be documented for potential replication.
We look forward to sharing the tools we develop!
Link to Curriculum Syllabus: Communications_Course_2013-14_syllabus_FINAL_.pdf
Passion and purpose took center stage at each New York City school and community-based organization we visited during the Institute for Democratic Education in America’s tour this past week. Three YATST youth-adult teams (Blue Mountain Union, Cabot, and Twinfield schools) took advantage of IDEA’s commitment to promote school innovation by providing vivid examples of what this abstract concept looks like in action.
The first stop was the Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx - situated in the poorest community in the country (100% student free and reduced lunch eligibility). Colorful student art graces the hallways. Standardized tests have been replaced by portfolios. Community-based service opportunities and internships are interspersed with classroom time. Wrap around services, offered through the Children’s Aid Society, provide a wide array of after-school program options and family support . The 470 students are grouped into smaller learning communities, resulting in close relationships between students and faculty. The legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights activist, lives on in the school’s deep commitment to provide a quality education to all students in this community.
We then travelled to THE POINT, a youth organization “based on the principles of asset-based community development…and the belief that the residents of the South Bronx, especially the young people, have the inherent vision and ability to transform their neighborhoods.” As we walked down to the waterfront in this industrial area, THE POINT Director and Program Director shared stories of both environmental and civil rights abuse, helping us understand the integral role this organization plays in the neighborhood to address these issues. Social justice issues fuel programming and services, enabling young people in the community to “embrace success and take charge of their lives and their future.”
On Friday morning we wound our way up Manhattan to the Calhoun School, a “private school with a public purpose.” This progressive school places a high value on experiential learning, segmenting the year into six week “mods”. This allows for deep study in a limited number of subjects at any one time. The school’s commitment to social justice was evident in their “Deconstructing Racism” project, creating a film and curriculum to surface issues of white privilege and institutional racism.
The tour culminated at El Puente, a Brooklyn based largely Hispanic organization, which grew out of a community initiative 30 years ago, during a time of great poverty and strife. We were greeted by a delicious meal and founder Frances Lucerna’s inspiring story of the organization’s evolution. She recounted the quest for peace and social change through youth leadership and civic engagement activities, arts-focused projects, and community health and environmental wellness initiatives. We then visited the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, established 20 years ago, as the first US school ever dedicated to human rights and social justice. Testimonies of a group of students involved in a “Girls’ Group” and a group of boys committed to a mentoring program repeatedly described the school as “family".
Our hosts’ sense of passion and purpose were constants at each of these diverse sites. This was coupled with an unwavering belief in the wisdom and capacity of young people to be agents of change, through a rich array of social activism opportunities. The challenges confronting these communities - glaring social inequity and injustice and environmental hazards - were overwhelming at times. Hope and a pervasive sense of empowerment provided balance to these stark realities.
How does this experience translate to our rural Vermont schools? What form does passion and purpose take here? Despite dramatically different backdrops, how are we alike and what can we learn from these similarities? How can the progressive practices we saw inform and inspire our YATST work? The trip left us with both a wealth of new ideas and information, and many questions to deepen our work over time.
At the invitation of principal Emilie Knisley, the Blue Mountain Union YATST Team made a presentation to the school board and community to lead off a public budget information meeting on February 26. Lana, Hannah, Eli, and Nicole showed a PowerPoint to explain YATST, the 4 Rs, and some highlights from their own Blue Mountain survey and data analysis. The presentation was well received, with both board and community members asking questions. The students reflected afterward that the “best part was it was really encouraging to see the board and community both supporting us.”
BMU is in its first year as a YATST school, with a unique structure to support the work of building youth-adult partnership. All BMU students do Senior Exit projects, and four of them—Lana, Hannah, Eli, and Nicole—have chosen to ground their projects in the YATST action research model. Working as a team with teacher Tracy Puffer, they spent first semester surveying teachers and students in grades 9-12, then analyzing data and defining topics for individual projects.
Lana is pursuing master schedule improvements (including a slot for a YATST course), while Hannah has explored personal learning plans and parent-teacher conferences. Nicole is working on student-teacher feedback systems, while Eli investigates the effects of varied teaching techniques, drawing on new brain research, with Ms. Puffer’s cooperation as a research subject.
Linking YATST work to senior projects is a new and promising venture. Blue Mountain Union may point the way for other schools with this kind of program to follow suit.