Prescott Daily Courier – Launch Pad founder/director guides students in finding their fire

Courtney Osterfelt’s heart beats for teens.

So much so that the 36-year-old married Prescott College graduate three years ago invested her grandmother’s inheritance — $14,000 — into launching a local teen center she named the Launch Pad.

The gesture was not solely a philanthropic endeavor but a personal form of redemption.

The one-time middle school Student Council president and high school athlete from a good family in Fort Collins, Colorado, said her teen years were a private horror show. Bullied and battered, Osterfelt admits she hid her invisible despair and scars with bad choices and bad influences.

photo

Courtney Osterfelt is executive director of The Launch Pad.

She credits a “last chance” high school, Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, with “saving my life.”

At that school, Osterfelt was able to see herself as a smart, capable young woman who could rise above any obstacle. The seeds of her future were planted. She was propelled to pursue education and opportunities that would enable her to be a force for good.

The Prescott College graduate — she earned her bachelor’s in education and earned a master’s degree in social change and community development — determined to build a career that would “pay it forward.”

“Every kid needs someone to light a fire and let them know that they can change the world if they want to,” Osterfelt said.

Her first foray into empowering teenagers was a college project: she organized a health education retreat for high school-aged girls intended to help thwart the rising rate of teenage pregnancy.

“I thought I would do it just one time,” Osterfelt said.

Instead, the 37 retreat attenders begged her to do it again. It was the birth of a 13-year, all-volunteer run conference called the Women’s Empowerment Breakthrough (WEB). It is now part of the annual Launch Pad programs in April 57 girls between the ages of 12 and 18 attended. The center raised $5,000 to cover the costs of the retreat held at a conference center on Mingus Mountain.

Never one to stay idle, Osterfelt started building a career that included working as a health educator at the county juvenile detention center; working at Prescott College organizing student activities and events where she, too, taught gender studies for five years.

Yet, ideas kept percolating in her mind on how to create a lasting outreach to teens.

The unexpected generosity of her grandmother, Helen “Tutu” Street in Denver, Colorado, enabled her to birth the Launch Pad in a small room of the Granite Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in downtown Prescott. Osterfelt committed to lead the venture with no salary for a year; she worked part-time as a waitress to pay her bills.

“There’s no rule book for starting a grass-roots organization,” said Osterfelt, who two years ago married Cooper Carr, a Prescott native, firefighter and youth advocate.

The center started out in a small pace at the Granite Peak church before they then moved into larger space at the Boys & Girls Club. A year ago, the center reopened in still larger quarters on the on the grounds of Prescott College, 302 Grove Ave.

And the center continues to seek ways to expand. Nothing is ever deemed impossible, Osterfelt said.

With an annual budget of $80,000, all now from private donations and fund-raising activities, Osterfelt was able to add two staff members and has numerous volunteers. The center serves some 100 teens each week; four camps this summer served another 100 teens.

In the coming year, Osterfelt hopes to expand again to offer after-school tutors. She even has plans for a blacksmithing class.

Osterfelt’s goal is always a safe haven for all teens, whether they are the most popular students or the wallflowers. She believes in nurturing the unique talents of every teen so they gain the confidence to become tomorrow’s leaders.

Osterfelt does not tolerate teens dismissing their worth. She lets them know obstacles “are not an excuse to quit.”

Even if she must reprimand someone, Osterfelt said she tells them they are “amazing” and she will “love them through” whatever is their storm.

“She’s just like ‘Wonder Woman.’ She’s a super hero,” said Cayden Himes, 19, a teen center member and musical event planner who is now on the center Board of Directors.

“She just has one of those hearts … she’s a server. She serves other people because that’s what does it for her,” said Cody Anne Yarnes, a real estate agency owner who annually donates about $10,000 to the center. Yarnes’ husband, Michael, was tapped as the first board president.

“She’s just an amazing human,” Yarnes concluded.

SRI Blog – SRI Pre-Service Summer Retreat 2017

 by Anastacia Galloway Reed

Years ago at a breakfast meeting during a Winter Meeting, Jonett Miniel brought together some folks working with pre-service educators. On June 19 & 20, 2017 we hosted our second summer retreat at Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center.  Along with Eagle Rock staff Anastacia Reed, Michael Soguero and Dan Condon, SRI Affiliates Jonett Miniel, Ruth Whalen Crockett , Todd Sumner, Elizabeth Hearn, Aiden Downey, Ayodele Harrison, Pat Norman, and Susan Adams traveled to Estes Park, Colorado to collaborate with one another on how to better support pre-service teacher candidates in pre-service education using the principles and practices of SRI critical friendship.  We spent some of our two days applying the tools of Improvement Science to opportunities for improvement in our various teacher licensure programs.

Improvement Science is a methodology that uses inquiry cycles to solve a particular problem of practice.  Between now & Fall Meeting this Pre-Service group will be conducting “PDSA” cycles.  First, they’ve got an idea that they’re going to test & have planned action to take.  Then, they will do something & study the findings.  Afterwards they will act – either adopting, adapting or abandoning the idea as they continue additional cycles.

Pat, Jonett, and Susan chose to examine why too few teachers are choosing to collaborate in the face of challenge while the rest of the group dug into why too few participants in SRI critical friendship get to a place of feeling good about the support received.  To unpack those problem statements it’s important to uncover the root cause which we did through an interactive protocol called “Interrelationship Digraph”.  The group first listed 4 – 6 root causes & then forced themselves to say which cause caused the other one.  At the end of the process there is typically a root cause that is at the root of all the other effects.

Between now & Fall Meeting the two groups of folks will be engaging in frequent coaching calls with Eagle Rock as they engage in PDSA cycles running anywhere from a day to a week to a month in length.   One group is working towards developing greater agency and ownership among their interns while the other is focused on developing growth mindset among their candidates.   At Fall Meeting in Atlanta we’ll be convening again to further our work together as a Network Improvement Community, sharing with newcomers what we’ve been up to, and there has also been some talk about some relationship building amongst the group at a delicious Atlanta restaurant.

Estes Park Trail Gazette – Eagle Rock and Estes Park School District partner in Liberatory Design Thinking workshop

The Professional Development Center at Eagle Rock and Estes Park Schools have created a partnership that allows Estes Park to benefit from the nationally-renowned work done by Eagle Rock.

Together, Estes Park School District R-3 and Eagle Rock used a process of Neighborhood Learning Conversations. These conversations helped the District discover what skills the Estes community wants its students to possess as a result of their education. As part of this initiative of Estes Thrives, facilitators heard from hundreds of people in the Estes community. The top results, which the school district is now calling their Global Outcomes (GOs), are Communication, Critical Thinking/Problem Solving, Creativity, Life Skills, Adaptability, Empathy and Wellness.

To help teachers meet these goals, Sarah Bertucci of Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center worked with Superintendent Sheldon Rosenkrance and the administration team to develop a Liberatory Design Thinking workshop. Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions for clients. A design mindset is not problem-focused; it is solution focused and action oriented.

Liberatory Design uses self-reflection and empathy interviews to ensure that all students’ needs are being met. Sarah facilitated this workshop so teachers could design 21st Century, project-based learning units for implementation next school year. As a result, students will be making documentaries about current issues, exploring the ethics around cheating, building their own solar systems, and engaging in many other fascinating learning projects.

During the two-day workshop, teachers went through a process of helping each other create these innovative projects. A group of Eagle Rock students participated in part of the workshop to help stimulate ideas and give feedback to teachers from a student perspective. These students are taking the course, “Deeper Learning and Equity,” to learn about education issues and run a week-long summer institute for educators from around the country. Teachers reported that the Eagle Rock students were incredibly insightful and helpful, especially with emphasizing the value of student input and giving students a choice in their project work.

Eagle Rock students reported that the experience was a fascinating window into understanding how hard teachers work to create good learning experiences.

Sarah Bertucci, who works as part of Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center team, said, “I work with schools across the country, and Estes Park teachers are exceptional in the way that they jump into learning experiences and care deeply about their students. I was inspired by the projects that teachers created and feel excited for my own children to get to have these learning experiences.”

Both Eagle Rock and Estes Park School District R-3 look forward to continuing this collaborative relationship to keep moving forward with meeting the needs of the students of Estes Park.

Getting Smart Blog – Integrated Curriculum: Why it Matters, and Where to Find It

by Tom Vander Ark

Life is integrated. Why isn’t learning?

Discipline-based learning was popularized in the mid 19th century. Disciplines were locked into place by course and credit structures a century ago. While experts would argue that disciplines have unique epistemologies worth exploring, the drawbacks of a discipline-based approach have long outlasted the benefits. It dampens engagement, narrows learning and damages preparation

Eighty years ago, the National Council of Teachers of English (ironically, a discipline-based organization) encouraged correlation (casual attention to related subjects), fusion of two subjects (often called multidisciplinary learning) and integration (the unification of all subjects and experiences).

Repko (2009) and others have asserted that interdisciplinary instruction fosters advances in cognitive ability and gains in the ability to recognize bias, think critically, tolerate ambiguity, acknowledge and appreciate ethical concerns.

The rise of whole-student outcome frameworks (e.g., Deeper Learning, MyWays, NMEF Student-Centered Learning, and GPS Transferable Skills) makes extended and challenging interdisciplinary essential.

Why do 95% of high schools retain discipline-based structure and staffing decades after the cost has been shown to significantly outweigh the benefit? As Tevya said, “Tradition!” More specifically, it’s due to state graduation requirements, college entrance requirements, discipline-based certification and university education. For decades, school boards adopted discipline-based textbooks and publishers delivered. In the 1990s, state standards were set by discipline-based groups. In high schools, master schedules take on a life of their own and employment contracts lock in department structures.

Ok, ok, disciplines are a monster of our own creation. But how to break out of the box? This post outlines a few integrated schools, networks, resources and models that might be helpful.

12 Integrated Schools

High Tech High is well known for its big integrated projects. The HTH GSE is a great place to learn about integrated learning. Want the movie version? Check out Most Likely to Succeed. (Also see blog/podcast on Making the City the Textt).

Tim Kubik said “Check out @AceLeadership @HealthLeaderHS and other @NM_Center schools. No classes, just authentic projects with industry partners.”

Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Pam Moran (@pammoran) urged us to check out Albemarle High (@AlbemarleHigh) and this video.

Eagle Rock School (@EagleRockSchool) is a demonstration site and professional development center in beautiful Estes Park Colorado. (Check out this blog/podcast with director of PD Michael Soguero).

Nuvu, in Cambridge Massachusetts, is an innovative school based on a project-based studio model lead by coaches who are leaders in their industry, experts in diverse fields, and passionate thought leaders.

Science Leadership Academy is an inquiry-driven, STEM-focused, project-based school formed as a partnership between the School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute. (Check out Inquiry Schools for more).

Building 21 Philadelphia is a non-selective competency-based public high school in Philadelphia supported by a nonprofit launched by three Harvard grad students. Students are supported to design their own pathway to graduation—a pathway defined by B21’s competency-based framework—with a series of dashboards for students and teachers to use to inform their experiences (featured on CompetencyWorks).

E.P.I.C.C. Academy at East Hall High School in Gainesville, Georgia, is a dynamic blend launched by @JohnHardison1 and documented frequently on Getting Smart.

Poland Regional High School, a member of the New England Secondary School Consortium, was an early leader in proficiency-based graduation. NESSC, operated by Great Schools Partnership, is leading the shift in New England to competency-based learning which opens up the potential for integrated projects.

Boston Day and Evening Academy has proficiency-based pathways that allow students to progress based on demonstrated mastery rather than seat time. Students benefit from wraparound services, digital tools that help create a personalized approach, and a school open 12 hours a day. Self-paced alternative ed meets adventure-based leadership training meets blended learning (see our feature).

Kettle Moraine, west of Milwaukee, has some very interesting charter schools including KM Perform, with a performing arts blend, and KM Global, a flex model global studies school (listen to our podcast with superintendent Pat DeKlotz.)

Boise nonprofit One Stone opened a small innovative high school to help young people make the world a better place (see feature, podcast and video).

4 Integrated School Networks

The 200 schools that make up the New Tech Network share an integrated project-based learning model and platform. Most learning takes place in big double classrooms through the collaboration of two teachers working together as a team to co-facilitate a course. By integrating subjects together, the course better reflects the way content and projects work in the world, with many subjects co-mingled. Since most secondary teachers are only specialists in one subject area, New Tech schools pair teachers together to collaboratively design those integrated projects. New Tech Teachers use Echo, a project-based learning platform with a big library of integrated projects.

A recent podcast of ours featured Oso New Tech and their English-World Studies course and innovative Art-Biology mashup. Health and Physical Education and Physics and Algebra 2 are other common combinations.

Matt Bertasso directs Compass Academy in Idaho Falls School District 91. In 2016, Matt led the development of Compass 2.0, a reengineering of course integrations (pictured below). The links between bubbles represent integrated project-based learning experiences.

Big Picture Learning is a national school network that starts with interest-based internships and adds integrated projects and personalized learning.

Similarly, Edvisions high schools support student-centered and project-based learning. Start with a visit to teacher-run Minnesota New Country School (profiled here).

EL Education (@ELeducation) is another project-based school network. The network focus has shifted to developing and supporting open source literacy curriculum. Models of Excellence is a curated, open-source collection of high-quality PreK-12 student work.

Integrated Curriculum

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) support the shift to ‘doing’ science–conducting inquiries and constructing understanding–by embracing crosscutting concepts and practices. It’s not curriculum, but NGSS should lead to more integrated content.

Buck Institute for Education is the Gold Standard for project-based learning. They offer seven integrated units on economics, six on government, and tons of examples across the curriculum.

Global Learning Models has great integrated high school courses linked to #GlobalGoals. Digital Promise also has challenge-based learning resources linked to Global Goals.

Literacy Design Collaborative (@LitDesignCollab) promotes literacy across the curriculum with quality prompts and a collaborative lesson authoring environment.

Big History Project (@BigHistoryPro) is a multidisciplinary history of life on planet earth. It’s great content for a big high school block (see middle and high school case studies).

EduChange (@EduChange) has offered integrated science since 2002.

There’s a lot more out there. What did we miss? Feel free to add your thoughts to the comments section below.

And one last thought–you don’t have to reorganize your whole school. You can start with one integrated unit planned with the teacher across the hall. Just get started!

School Leaders Now – Principals Share: The One Thing I Do Every Day Before I Leave School

Poornima Apte Poornima Apte on June 1, 2017

successful principals

 You know it: Sometimes being a principal is like drinking water from a fire hose. Despite the constant demands on your time and energy, there are things you can do every day to stay centered. Here, six successful principals share the end-of-day tasks they always prioritize.
1. Return those missed calls and emails. You’ll be glad you did.

It might seem like a no-brainer, but volleying emails and phone calls back into the sender’s court is a great way to wrap up the day. Added bonus: it might nip developing problems in the bud. Stacy Ward, principal of East Hill Elementary School in Canajoharie, New York says, “I miss calls during the day sometimes if I’m not in my office, but I make sure to follow up with everyone before the day is done.” Principal Stephen Imbusch of Walpole High School in Massachusetts agrees. “I always feel better going home if I have made some effort to respond,” he says.

2. Walk the halls and send them off with a smile.

Be present, it’s a great way to show you care about school members. “I like to be visible in and around the school as classes dismiss,” says Matt Renwick, elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, “Parents are greeted, students can get a high five or a hug as needed, and staff can ask any pertinent questions before the day ends.”

3. Eat snack with the kids. Why not?

Sharing a meal with students is a great way to snap up some candid truths about how things are going. At the residential Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, Colorado, principal Jeff Liddle loves to sit down with the kids at dinner and chat them up.

“They share big accomplishments and struggles. They’ll give me a heads up on things I should follow up on and I usually end up doing a little life coaching as well,” he says, “Those conversations kee[ me grounded in the students’ world and connected to what’s most important.” Even if you’re not at a residential school, lunch hour in the cafeteria is a neat way to get kids to spill the beans.

4. Make tomorrow’s to-do list.

Fire-fighting is no fun, so it’s a good idea to put out a spark before it becomes a flame. Stay on top of storms brewing with a quick check-in with school staff. Jennifer Schwanke, elementary school principal in Dublin, Ohio, checks in with the assistant principal and guidance counselor to “make sure we don’t have any worrisome student issues that we need to address together.” Dr. Priscilla Sands, head of the Marlborough School in Los Angeles, meets with the school’s senior advisees every morning. As she wraps up her day, she reflects on those conversations to find out exciting and challenging, and what motivates staff.

5. Conquer the clutter

Stay on top of the endless stream of paperwork—things can quickly get out of hand otherwise. Schwanke says, “I wouldn’t dream of ending the day without cleaning up the clutter on my desk so I don’t start the next day overwhelmed and disorganized.”

The Atlantic – Inside a Multiage Classroom

Dividing students by arbitrary birthdate ranges doesn’t make sense, advocates say.

By Stuart Miller

Two students walk into Francis W. Parker Essential School
The Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts Stuart Miller

DEVENS, Massachusetts—It looks like a typical class in a suburban high school. The teacher, Barbara Curtin, discusses the differences between mean, mode, and median while her students at the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School sit in clusters of three or four at tables around the room. A second teacher, Lorin Hill, is there to help. All fairly standard, but for one dramatic difference—the mix of students.

Curtin’s class includes both ninth- and 10th-graders. Sometimes she even has a precocious eighth-grader or two and a couple of struggling 11th-graders. That’s because Parker offers what may be the nation’s most ambitious and comprehensive take on multiage education in middle and high school, breaking grades 7 to 12 into three divisions, with each division blending two grades together.

Multiage education is not a return to the one-room schoolhouse of yore, in which students of all ages learned different subjects in one space. Instead, students from (typically) two grades learn together in an environment that, advocates say, encourages cooperation and mentoring while allowing struggling students enough time to master material.

A long-time staple of Montessori schools, multiage classrooms spread to progressive elementary schools in the 1990s, although their use was always just one ingredient in a mix intended to provide more personalized instruction.

But the movement lost traction in the 2000s, when the No Child Left Behind era imposed more grade-level standardized tests.

“The move to standards-based education with testing on grade level has made multiage classrooms really challenging,” says Diane Friedlaender of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education at Stanford University.

Today, multiage classrooms remain an anomaly in America. Little research is being done on them in elementary schools—and the results are inconclusive—while virtually no research has ever investigated the effects of  multiage classrooms in middle and high schools, likely because so few exist. (Though there are no hard numbers, educators acknowledge the total is miniscule.)

Yet multiage advocates say the traditional approach of dividing students into single grades based on an arbitrary birth-date range is illogical. Children spend much of their time outside school on sports teams or in arts programs that are more age-flexible than classrooms. Little League baseball teams, for instance, might group 5- to 8-year-olds in one division and 9- to 10-year-olds in another, allowing children to “play up” or “play down” based on their skills. Then the same kids go to school and are segregated with others of the exact same age, but not necessarily the same development, and they are all expected to reach certain benchmarks and move on at year’s end, no matter what.

“It is hard to understand why schools have such a rigid adherence to that structure and don’t think about child development at all,” says Friedlaender.

Sandra Stone, a consultant and the author of the 2004 book Creating the Multiage Classroom, believes multiage education could be “more valuable” for older children “given the wider range of growth, both physical and emotional, as they are finding out who they are.”

Adds Friedlaender: “People in charge think more about the developmental needs of children at the elementary level so they make space for multiage classrooms there, but with older children they think more about academics.”

For some, the traditional way is more convenient, says Dan Condon, the associate director of professional development at the Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center in Colorado. “High school is set up to serve the adults and staff members’ schedules,” says Condon, whose school offers multiage education for students ages 15 to 21 who are not on track to graduate. “It’s not set up to help young people succeed.”

Multiage education, say its proponents, puts learners at the center, socially and academically. On the social side, younger children look for guidance to older students who know the ropes, while the older students in the classroom organically learn about mentoring, leadership, and collaboration.

Paula Dallacqua, who is in her first year of teaching a combined ninth- and 10th-grade class at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx, says she tried to create specific moments for mentoring but soon found she was forcing the issue.

“Those relationships form naturally,” explains Dallacqua, “and the students don’t even always identify it as ‘I am mentoring now.’”

Fannie Lou Hamer is a small public high school that utilizes several progressive educational philosophies; the school’s innovations have led to it being named a “Gold” School of Opportunity by the National Education Policy Center in 2015 and a “model school” by the Center for Reform of School Systems in 2016. While it merges the ninth- and 10th-grades, it returns to traditional grade structure for students’ final two years, by which point struggling students will have hopefully had time to catch up.

Frank Williams, 15, says that when he entered the school last year he was skeptical of the concept but found his elders provided critical guidance. “Building a relationship with older students helps you know what to expect, and they give an example of how to stay on track,” Frank says. “If there were any situations, I had 10th-graders right there to show me how to maneuver through them. My maturity level skyrocketed.”

Now Frank is in 10th grade and he passes on his wisdom to the ninth-graders. “He helps me with my math,” his classmate Kaleb Stobbs says.

A group of students work at a whiteboard Although the ninth- and 10th-graders are mixed together, teachers try to ensure that students in the second year are still challenged. At Parker, the math teacher Dawn Crane says a student in the first year of a multiage class might be asked to solve a problem using two different types of functions while a second-year student would be expected to use three different types.

Meanwhile, for those who lag behind, multiage education provides a crucial practical and psychological boost by blending two grades, says Nathan Larsen, the assistant principal at Fannie Lou Hamer.

“If ninth grade ends and you are only three-quarters of the way toward mastering the material in a traditional school you will be left back, but here you stay with your class and have time in the second year to catch up,” he says.

Extra time is helpful in any school, but it’s crucial at Fannie Lou Hamer because here, in one of the nation’s poorest congressional districts, 50 percent of the children live in poverty and students “frequently come in with gaps in their education—they are overage and undereducated and they have missed out on stuff” says Larsen. (More than half the students also grow up in households in which English is not the main language.)

Friedlaender adds that poor and underserved children frequently struggle with the perseverance required to catch up. “They’ve had so much trauma and heartache in their lives and it becomes survival instinct, so a psychological wall goes up when things don’t come easily,” she explains. “Just saying that you have the ability to master the material and have the extra time can help them develop the capacity to persist.”

Parker Principal Todd Sumner says that many of his students also have learning issues—one-third have diagnosed learning differences and another 10 to 15 percent have disabilities. Despite that, 95 percent of Parker graduates have gone on to college and 96 percent of those students attend four-year colleges, with more than 85 percent attaining their degree within five years, the school says.

Sumner says that approximately three-fourths of his students spend two years in each division but some need more time and return to their division for an extra semester or even an entire extra year. Others may breeze through a division in a year and a half.

For multiage classrooms to work, schools need to set their curriculums and teaching schedules differently. Curtin and Hill will teach one curriculum to this year’s crop of ninth- and 10th-graders. Next year they will teach a different curriculum to a new set of ninth-graders merging with the rising 10th-graders they had the previous year. The following year they’ll return to the first curriculum, so that each group gets both years’ worth of material. Students who return for extra time have thus seen the material before and ideally have a better chance to grasp the concepts the second time around. (Larsen adds that for poor children, whose schooling is often plagued by change, either in their home lives or by teacher turnover, this looping and being around older kids offers a vital stabilizing effect.)

Sumner allows that the age-segregated world does intrude in the form of standardized tests—his students typically take the state test in eighth and 10th grade and the SAT or ACT in 11th grade, no matter where they are within the school’s three divisions.

While he believes that multiage education is beneficial to all students, Sumner says it is most helpful for those who are struggling with a certain subject.

He adds: “The world is already taking care of the kid who is accelerated, but the kid who is a semester behind is especially well-served here” once they buy into the idea that everyone learns at a different pace. “You can see that they stand up straighter after a while and say, ‘I’m not a dumb kid. It may take me a little more time, but I’m going to get there.’ ”

Andrew Welton, 17, is a student at Parker. He explains matter-of-factly that he is a junior but is still taking Division II classes with the ninth- and 10th-graders because “I was a bit of a train wreck coming into the school.”

“I wanted to go ahead with my friends—they’re my buds—and it wasn’t the best feeling in the world, but by taking the extra time, I think I really managed to figure out some of the issues I was going through,” he says.

There is challenging work for the teachers as well, since they must buy into the concept of teaching non-sequentially. Sumner says this fits with his school’s commitment to inquiry-based education, which teaches students certain key skills instead of facts that they can “regurgitate” on command.

“We’re leaving a lot of things out—we acknowledge that,” he says, explaining that their approach prioritizes depth over breadth. Students do not cover American history from the beginning to the present day, he says, but instead “learn to think like a historian and to understand the social, economic, and political drivers of any situation, so they know what the right questions are to ask about any period in history.”

Crane, the math teacher at Parker, says that math teachers in traditional schools are often uncomfortable with the notion of teaching algebra and geometry in a nonlinear fashion, alternating units in both subjects over the course of each year’s curriculum. They see them as separate subjects, but, Crane says, “The way we’re doing it, there is a connection from algebra to geometry and we build on that with each unit.”

Multiage classrooms might be an easier sell for teachers, administrators, and elected officials around the country if there was definitive research supporting the claims of its advocates. In fact, most studies of multiage classrooms date to the 1990s. At that time, a widely cited overview concluded that “Studies in which the cognitive or achievement effects of multi-age and single-age classes were compared indicated no differences between these two types of grouping.”

Stone, the author and consultant, claims the reason there have been so few studies over the last two decades is that most research has been centered around testing and curriculum. Friedlaender adds that the old research may have been skewed by small, especially rural, elementary schools that resort to multiage classrooms for budgetary, not philosophical, reasons—it is cheaper to have one teacher for two grades—and do not provide the extensive teacher training necessary. And, of course, none of the studies involved adolescents.

Ultimately, although supporters of multiage education remain passionate about its potential benefits, they tend to agree that, as Friedlaender says, “it is not a cure-all.”

“Multiage education is a catalyst or an additive for what we are trying to do here, but it is part of a larger ecosystem,” explains Larsen.

Both Larsen and Sumner see multiage as one ingredient among many others found in progressive schools: a small-enough student load to allow teachers to personalize instruction; a structure that allows teachers to really get to know each student; and project- and inquiry-based learning that is driven by questions and discussion, not textbooks and lectures. Schools that buy into these approaches can also flourish without multiage education, but advocates say it enhances the mission.

“We know every school is different and every faculty is different,” Sumner says, “and we would be slow to say, ‘Just do it like we do it.’ We would say, ‘Here are the processes we use to arrive at what works for us, you might want to think about asking these questions.’”


This post appears courtesy of The Hechinger Report.

Hechinger Report – Would students learn more if they were grouped together like Little League teams?

Dividing students by arbitrary birthdate ranges doesn’t make sense, advocates say

Officials at the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts, believe multiage education fosters cooperation and collaboration between students, like these ninth- and 10th-graders working together on a Holocaust-related history project.

DEVENS, Mass. — It looks like a typical class in a suburban high school. The teacher, Barbara Curtin, discusses the differences between mean, mode and median while her students at the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School sit in clusters of three or four at tables around the room. A second teacher, Lorin Hill, is there to help. All fairly standard, but for one dramatic difference — the mix of students.

Curtin’s class includes both ninth- and 10th-graders. Sometimes she even has a precocious eighth-grader or two and struggling 11th-graders. That’s because Parker offers what may be the nation’s most ambitious and comprehensive take on multiage education in middle and high school, breaking grades 7 to 12 into three divisions, with each division blending two grades together.

Multiage education is not a return to the one-room schoolhouse of yore, in which students of all ages learned different subjects in one space. Instead, students from (typically) two grades learn together in an environment that, advocates say, encourages cooperation and mentoring while allowing struggling students enough time to master material.  A long-time staple of Montessori schools, multiage classrooms spread to progressive elementary schools in the 1990s, although their use was always just one ingredient in a mix intended to provide more personalized instruction.

But the movement lost traction in the 2000s, when the No Child Left Behind era imposed more grade-level standardized tests.

“The move to standards-based education with testing on grade level has made multiage classrooms really challenging,” says Diane Friedlaender of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education at Stanford University.

Today, multiage classrooms remain an anomaly in America. Little new research is being done on them in elementary schools — and the results are inconclusive — while virtually no research has ever been done on multiage classrooms in middle and high schools, likely because so few exist. (Though there are no hard numbers, educators acknowledge the total is minuscule.)

Yet multiage advocates say the traditional approach of dividing students into single grades based on an arbitrary birthdate range is illogical. Children spend much of their time outside school on sports teams or in arts programs that are more age-flexible than classrooms. Little League baseball teams, for instance, might group 5- to 8-year-olds in one division and 9- to 10-year-olds in another, allowing children to “play up” or “play down” based on their skills. Then the same kids go to school and are segregated with others of the exact same age, but not necessarily the same development, and they are all expected to reach certain benchmarks and move on at year’s end, no matter what.

“It is hard to understand why schools have such a rigid adherence to that structure and don’t think about child development at all,” says Friedlaender.

Related: High school should be more like preschool

Sandra Stone, author of the 2004 book “Creating the Multiage Classroom” and a consultant on the topic, believes multiage education could be “more valuable” for older children “given the wider range of growth, both physical and emotional, as they are finding out who they are.”

Adds Friedlaender: “People in charge think more about the developmental needs of children at the elementary level so they make space for multiage classrooms there, but with older children they think more about academics.”

The traditional way is more convenient — for some, says Dan Condon, associate director of professional development at the Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center in Colorado. “High school is set up to serve the adults and staff members’ schedules,” says Condon, whose school offers multiage education for students ages 15 to 21 who are not on track to graduate. “It’s not set up to help young people succeed.”

Multiage education, say its proponents, puts learners at the center, socially and academically. On the social side, younger children look for guidance to older students who know the ropes, while the older students in the classroom organically learn about mentoring, leadership and collaboration.

Paula Dallacqua, who is in her first year of teaching a combined ninth- and 10th-grade class at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx, says she tried to create specific moments for mentoring but soon found she was forcing the issue.

“Those relationships form naturally,” explains Dallacqua, “and the students don’t even always identify it as ‘I am mentoring now.’ ”

Frank Williams, a 10th-grader at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx, believes that when he was a ninth-grader, sharing a classroom with older students helped him mature more quickly.

Fannie Lou Hamer is a small public high school that uses several progressive educational philosophies; the school’s innovations have led to it being named a “Gold” School of Opportunity by the National Education Policy Center in 2015 and a “model school” by the Center for Reform of School Systems in 2016. While it merges the ninth and 10th grades, it returns to traditional grade structure for students’ final two years, by which point, it is hoped, struggling students will have had time to catch up.

Frank Williams, 15, says that when he entered the school last year he was skeptical of the concept but found his elders provided critical guidance. “Building a relationship with older students helps you know what to expect, and they give an example of how to stay on track,” Frank says. “If there were any situations, I had 10th-graders right there to show me how to maneuver through them. My maturity level skyrocketed.”

Now Frank is in 10th grade and he passes on his wisdom to the ninth-graders. “He helps me with my math,” classmate Kaleb Stobbs says.

Related: The tried-and-trued model of personalized learning that’s been around for 100 years

Although the ninth- and 10th-graders are mixed together, teachers try to ensure that students in the second year are still challenged. At Parker, math teacher Dawn Crane says a student in the first year of a multiage class might be asked to solve a problem using two different types of functions while a second-year student would be expected to use three different types.

Meanwhile, for those who lag behind, multiage education provides a crucial practical and psychological boost by blending two grades, says Nathan Larsen, assistant principal at Fannie Lou Hamer.

“If ninth grade ends and you are only three-quarters of the way toward mastering the material in a traditional school you will be left back, but here you stay with your class and have time in the second year to catch up,” he says.

Extra time is helpful in any school, says Larsen, but it’s crucial at Fannie Lou Hamer because here, in one of the nation’s poorest congressional districts, 50 percent of the children live in poverty and students “frequently come in with gaps in their education — they are overage and undereducated and they have missed out on stuff.” (More than half the students also grow up in households in which English is not the main language.)

Friedlaender adds that poor and underserved children frequently struggle with the perseverance required to catch up. “They’ve had so much trauma and heartache in their lives and it becomes survival instinct, so a psychological wall goes up when things don’t come easily,” she explains. “Just saying that you have the ability to master the material and have the extra time can help them develop the capacity to persist.”

Parker principal Todd Sumner says that many of his students also have learning issues — one-third have diagnosed learning differences and another 10 to 15 percent have disabilities. Despite that, 95 percent of Parker graduates have gone on to college and 96 percent of those students attend four-year colleges, with more than 85 percent attaining their degree within five years, the school says.

Sumner says that approximately three-fourths of his students spend two years in each division but some need more time and return to their division for an extra semester or even an entire extra year. Others may breeze through a division in a year and a half.

For multiage classrooms to work, schools need to set their curriculums and teaching schedules differently. Curtin and Hill will teach one curriculum to this year’s crop of ninth- and 10th-graders. Next year they will teach a different curriculum to a new set of ninth-graders merging with the rising 10th-graders they had the previous year. The following year they’ll return to the first curriculum, so that each group gets both years’ worth of material. Students who return for extra time have thus seen the material before and ideally have a better chance to grasp the concepts the second time around. (Larsen adds that for poor children, whose schooling is often plagued by change, either in their home lives or by teacher turnover, this looping and being around older kids offers a vital stabilizing effect.)

Sumner allows that the age-segregated world does intrude in the form of standardized tests — his students typically take the state test in eighth and 10th grade and the SAT or ACT in 11th grade, no matter where they are within the school’s three divisions.

While he believes that multiage education is beneficial to all students, Sumner says it is most helpful for those who are struggling with a certain subject.

The Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts, is one of the nation’s most ambitious schools with regard to multiage education, breaking grades 7 through 12 into three divisions, with each division blending two grades.

He adds: “The world is already taking care of the kid who is accelerated, but the kid who is a semester behind is especially well served here” once they buy into the idea that everyone learns at a different pace. “You can see that they stand up straighter after a while and say, ‘I’m not a dumb kid. It may take me a little more time but I’m going to get there.’ ”

Andrew Welton, 17, is a student at Parker. He explains matter-of-factly that he is a junior but is still taking Division II classes with the ninth- and 10th-graders because “I was a bit of a train wreck coming into the school.”

“I wanted to go ahead with my friends — they’re my buds — and it wasn’t the best feeling in the world, but by taking the extra time I think I really managed to figure out some of the issues I was going through,” he says.

There is challenging work for the teachers as well, since they must buy into the concept of teaching nonsequentially. Sumner says this fits with his school’s commitment to inquiry-based education, which teaches students certain key skills instead of facts that they can “regurgitate” on command.

“We’re leaving a lot of things out — we acknowledge that,” he says, explaining that their approach prioritizes depth over breadth. Students do not cover American history from the beginning to the present day, he says, but instead “learn to think like a historian and to understand the social, economic and political drivers of any situation, so they know what the right questions are to ask about any period in history.”

Crane, the math teacher at Parker, says that math teachers in traditional schools are often uncomfortable with the notion of teaching algebra and geometry in nonlinear fashion, alternating units in both subjects over the course of each year’s curriculum. They see them as separate subjects, but, Crane says, “The way we’re doing it, there is a connection from algebra to geometry and we build on that with each unit.”

Multiage classrooms might be an easier sell for teachers, administrators and elected officials around the country if there were definitive research supporting the claims of its advocates. In fact, most studies of multiage classrooms date to the 1990s. At that time, a widely cited overview concluded that “Studies in which the cognitive or achievement effects of multi-age and single-age classes were compared indicated no differences between these two types of grouping.”

Sandra Stone claims that the reason there have been so few studies over the last two decades is that most research has been centered around testing and curriculum. Friedlaender adds that the old research may have been skewed by small, especially rural, elementary schools that resort to multiage classrooms for budgetary, not philosophical, reasons — it is cheaper to have one teacher for two grades — and do not provide the extensive teacher training necessary. And, of course, none of the studies involved adolescents.

Ultimately, although supporters of multiage education remain passionate about its potential benefits, they tend to agree that, as Friedlaender says, “it is not a cure-all.”

“Multiage education is a catalyst or an additive for what we are trying to do here but it is part of a larger ecosystem,” explains Larsen.

Both Larsen and Sumner see multiage as one ingredient among many others found in progressive schools: a small-enough student load to allow teachers to personalize instruction; a structure that allows teachers to really get to know each student; and project- and inquiry-based learning that is driven by questions and discussion, not textbooks and lectures. Schools that buy into these approaches can also flourish without multiage education, but advocates say it enhances the mission.

“We know every school is different and every faculty is different,” Sumner says, “and we would be slow to say, ‘Just do it like we do it.’ We would say, ‘Here are the processes we use to arrive at what works for us, you might want to think about asking these questions.’ ”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about High School Reform.

Unlike most of our stories, this piece is an exclusive collaboration and may not be republished.

Getting Smart Podcast – High Quality Professional Development at Eagle Rock

By Emily Liebtag

High-quality learning is often a result of great teaching and student-centered learning environments. We know from John Hattie and his work in Visible Learning that a teacher is one of the most important factors when it comes to student outcomes. Michael Soguero, long-time educator and current Director of Professional Development at Eagle Rock, fully supports that great teaching is key.

Eagle Rock is a full-service not-for-profit educational reform organization that operates a year-round residential high school in Colorado. Eagle Rock also offers professional development on-site and around the country.

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Soguero also argues that we need to keep investing in educator professional learning, regardless of what reports claim about the effects. He has seen, over years of working with teachers, the strong impact that high-quality learning can have on a school and on classrooms.

At the Eagle Rock Profession Development Center, educators have customized experiences that are catered towards their goals and aspirations; they are not one-size-fits-all. Staff at Eagle Rock value many types of learning, including project- and competency-based, but more so value what a school or leader is seeking to create or build for their students. They work with “what is already in the [school’s] kitchen” and assess existing structures and strengths before they go about even developing a strategy or plan. They are doing what we know is best for students – making connections, establishing relationships and getting to know people before they do anything else.

In this podcast, we hear more from Michael about his work and Eagle Rock’s strategy for leading high-quality learning experiences for teachers. For more on their professional development, visit their website directly.

Estes Park Trail Gazette – Eagle Rock play tackles identity, social constructs and privilege

By Barb Boyer Buck

Meghan Tokunaga-Scanlon, music instructional specialist at Eagle Rock School, chose “Songs For a New World” as the school’s spring play very carefully. As written, the piece is more of a song cycle than a musical; all the music and lyrics were written by Jason Robert Brown. The overreaching theme of the piece is the finality of making a decision. “It’s about one moment,” said Brown about his show, “It’s about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back.”

“Songs For a New World” opened on Thursday night and runs for just two more performances — tonight and Saturday — beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Ruesch Auditorium at the YMCA of the Rockies. Admission is a donation toward the school’s graduate fund; duck race tickets to benefit the same fund will also be on sale at this venue.

The play is more of a song cycle than a musical and the overreaching theme of the piece is the finality of making a decision.

The play is more of a song cycle than a musical and the overreaching theme of the piece is the finality of making a decision. (Barb Boyer Buck/ For the Trail-Gazette)

“I take the selection of musicals to be a long and intentional process,” Tokunaga-Scanlon explained. “It’s very important to me that my students see all of the roles they could play in theatre and in life, and how those affect one another, thus I often stray away from the traditional musical.”

She disagrees with the notion that all musicals are trivial and formulaic.

“I want my students to see that there are different and more complex roles out there besides ‘getting the guy,’ or ‘falling in love,’ or ‘once I get this makeover, everyone will love me and see me as valuable.’ These narratives are told over and over in the entertainment industry: plays, movies, musicals, TV shows, music…. and we’re conditioned to think that that’s how we need to act to be ‘normal’ or accepted.

Several student performers told the Trail-Gazette that acting has increased their confidence.

Several student performers told the Trail-Gazette that acting has increased their confidence. (Barb Boyer Buck/ For the Trail-Gazette)

“It’s important that students see all the different ways theatre can be; not just one style of narrative over and over,” she said. “I’m not saying love is a nonsense subject, it’s quite complex, but when all my girls want to play the love interest over the funny, loud girl who takes chances, it makes me think twice about the message I’m sending them. It’s showing them that funny isn’t attractive, that saying your truth isn’t desirable, and that relationships and attention are what you should aspire to most.

This year’s play takes on complex issues like identity, social constructs and privilege.

This year’s play takes on complex issues like identity, social constructs and privilege. (Barb Boyer Buck/ For the Trail-Gazette)

“Tokunaga-Scanlon encouraged the students to explore all aspects of their talents and interests. Boys don’t have to sing low “like basses to be considered a man” and students of color shouldn’t feel pigeon-holed into certain roles, she said.

“It’s important to me that my students see themselves in the stories and that they can find something of substance to relate to,” she said.

As with other plays she’s directed at Eagle Rock in the past, this piece tackles complex social issues.

“When we performed Spring Awakening two years ago, we learned about sexual health and relationships. When we performed The Wiz last year, we talked about the historical context and impact of the show. This year, we focused on identity, social constructs and privilege.”

The entire cast of the Eagle Rock School play "Songs For a New World."

The entire cast of the Eagle Rock School play “Songs For a New World.” (Barb Boyer Buck/ For the Trail-Gazette)

The music for “Songs” is powerful, complex and “different,” she said, and the format of the show gives her an opportunity to create several plot lines. “I love the idea of having to create an entire storyline and relationship with the audience in only one song vs. the entire show,” she said.

Tokunaga-Scanlon is the director and did most the choreography; two student stage managers (Marcus Wade-Prince and Mohammad Thabata) blocked and rehearsed a couple of the numbers along with Josue Quintana, her music fellow and assistant director. Local actress and producer Jenn Bass is the acting coach.

As a vehicle for expression and creativity, the participating students are responding positively to this experience.

Jafar Solorio (center) during a rehearsal session.

Jafar Solorio (center) during a rehearsal session. (Barb Boyer Buck/ For the Trail-Gazette)

“This is my first show and I am going in with a bang,” cast member Jafar Solorio said, “The second song really stands out for me because it is showing history, the rough parts of our country’s past. This show expresses a lot of current events with nice-tie ins. This is our way to speak out against Trump, this is our voice.”

Carolina Avalos Diaz never thought she would be in a musical.

“I am a very shy person and it was always hard for me to even ask for my own food at a restaurant,” Diaz said. “Look at me now! I feel so accomplished and I am so thankful for being part of this cast.”

“Before I came to Eagle Rock, being part of a musical was a thought that never crossed my mind,” Evan Slavic said. “After being here for two years of being at this school, my confidence has improved greatly — so i decided to take a chance and join the musical. I discovered I have a passion and talent for singing and performing. I would like to show appreciation to my father for providing me with the love and support.”

Aviv Kirtner said, “this is my second musical at Eagle Rock and my confidence has gotten even stronger. Every day I learn something new about myself. This is such an inspirational musical and I am so happy to be a part of it.”

Tokunaga-Scanlon hopes the entire Estes Park community comes out to enjoy the show and is proud of her role in shaping the students’ development through art. “I hope audience members engage in an intentional performance, see all of the hard work the students have been putting in since December. I hope they’re moved enough to engage in productive dialogue that can spur change in our country. No matter what side people are on, I want this show to challenge ideas and perceptions and for the creators and receivers of art to have a conversation about what strikes them and why.”

Estes Park Trail Gazette – Eagle Rock play – Opens Thursday

by Barb Boyer Buck

“Songs for a New World,” music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, will be performed by Eagle Rock School students starting Thursday.  The show will be presented at Reusch Auditorium at the YMCA of the Rockies, April 6-8.

Doors open at 7 and the show will start at 7:30.  Admittance is gained by donation in any amount to benefit the Eagle Rock Graduate Fund. “First produced in 1995, the show is a mix of songs Brown had written separately, or written for other shows ended up coming together and was his first show ever produced,” said Meghan Tokunaga-Scanlon, director.

“The show is more of a song cycle/revue that brings together four singers each on the moment of decision. Although there is some form of overarching narrative, most of the songs stand alone outside of the show.”
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