Challenge Accepted: ReSchool Colorado, The #NextEdStory

Colleen Broderick, Chief Learning Designer ReSchool Colorado

For nearly two decades, The Donnell-Kay Foundation has invested in efforts to improve the current education system, from state level policy to early-stage seed funding for innovative organizations and new learning models. While bright lights exist within our current system we believe we can leverage the rapid changes in our culture and breakthrough innovations to address the gaps in opportunity for the many learners who are uninspired by school and ill-prepared for life beyond it.

This belief is the inspiration for ReSchool Colorado.

Launched in 2013, our mission is to design and launch an inspirational education system for learners from birth to career that coordinates people and resources in new, dynamic ways, ensuring an experience that is welcoming, empowering and world class.

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We envision learning that is unbundled as we know it and rebundled to serve purposeful groupings of students through an array of talented educators and providers. Supported by a learner advocate and an advocate network aligning to a competency-based framework communicating clear outcomes, each student will have a unique pathway that values not only the individual’s academic trajectory but also the importance of a vibrant learning community, rich with social and emotional support.

As Andy Calkins and Kelly Young note in their call for a new narrative that combats the factory model of schooling we have today, it’s not easy to convey the changes, both bold and nuanced, that define this new experience of learning. Perhaps by tracking moments in the potential journey of a single learner, we can begin to explore the possibilities of a new system that optimizes the assets of a learner and of a community.

This is the story of Katrina.

The start. Four-year-old Katrina and her family joined the new system two years ago after seeing a roundtable presentation of parents that are part of the ReSchool system. With access to new tools that help surface a family’s lifestyle, the support they have from their families and friends, their experience as parents, and their hopes for their child, they were able to choose an advocate network they felt suited their needs and aspirations. Their network helped match them with a learner advocate. Not only did their advocate help orient them to the opportunities available within the system, beginning early with options for childcare that matched Katrina’s developmental needs, but provided them with the necessary tools they needed to make better decisions and spend their education dollars, their child’s public education funding, more effectively.

At this stage of learning, Katrina spends most of her week at a learning center that serves to coordinate different learning and service providers. Her parents appreciate that they can use their education dollars at a single place that dynamically bundles together different opportunities to match her learning and ensure that she has a safe place to be every day. They weigh in monthly, rating different experiences to inform continued quality at the center.

The core providers are a team of educators that design and help document the learning experiences of students, as well as cultivate an exciting environment for learning, both at the center and across the community. Their approach adds developmental context to the ReSchool Learning Framework by seeing children as resourceful, imaginative, curious, inventive, and possessing a desire to interact and communicate with others. Through providing environments rich in possibilities that lead to exploration and problem-solving, their programming unfolds from the interests of the students that they serve.

Katrina’s schedule reflects the following:

10:15 — A local musician and a high school student participating in a music internship lead this class. The language of body movement is one of the first languages children discover and enjoy. Active movement is crucial for a child’s early physical development and matches key milestones for early stages of learning. Katrina loves to use this form of expression to share what she understands about an area of study. By taking video and interviewing the children, her teacher is able to hold this learning in her electronic portfolio.

Noon — Children have healthy snacks, many of which are provided by the learning center’s partners at the community garden project. Katrina works on her independence and fine motor skills during this time, with a teacher close by to guide positive social interactions.

1:30 — Art is an important part of Katrina’s experience. It is common to see her graphic expressions captured in her portfolio, as well as exhibited in community spaces. Co-taught with a center teacher and a rotating art teacher from surrounding schools, their artwork is displayed in the classroom and becomes part of their cycle of inquiry.

3:20 — Some students go home at this time while others have the option of staying for additional programming. Since her parents work, three days a week Katrina stays at the center participating in services offered by a rotation of providers based on her learning profile. Katrina has benefitted from extra reading time as well as playing with her peers to build on self-regulation and social skills, two areas she needed more time to learn and develop.

Seven years later. At 11, Katrina is beginning to take greater and greater responsibility for her learning. In partnership with Sam, her long-time advocate, her community cohort, and her parents, she has developed strong habits for planning, time-management and reflection. This is clear in her competency dashboard, a digital tool that helps document evidence towards the system’s learning framework and her advocate network’s specific goals. As a result of her recent competency review, she shifted to a new level of independence requiring less frequent check-ins with her learner advocate to ensure she remains on track with her learning goals.

Katrina still spends the bulk of her time at the learning center, following a fairly consistent schedule. However, some of the structures have changed. Unlike her early elementary years when she traveled with the same group of peers, Katrina now works across different spaces and with a variety of co-learners. She has an office space that serves as her home base, then moves from labs, to design workshop space, to seminar rooms to engage with the best tools and people to meet her goals.

There is a flat fee for basic services of the learning center, but now her parents allocate her education dollars to various providers that work at the center.

Katrina’s schedule reflects the following:

10:00 — Although Katrina may spend some time on a project or working on online curriculum early in the morning, her day formally begins with morning meeting. Matching the cognitive research about the importance of sleep for adolescents, Katrina and her family chose a schedule that allows Katrina an appropriate amount of sleep for her age. The morning meeting has been a staple in Katrina’s learning and she continues to love the time to connect with peers and others in the community. The morning meeting has taken on new dimensions as Katrina has grown, and now includes learners of multiple ages sharing their challenges, providing information for others’ work, and following up on tasks to ensure the learning center continues to meet the needs of the learners they serve.

11:30 — Twice a week, Katrina meets formally with her writing group. It is led by a parent who homeschools her own children and uses the learning center as an authorized provider to support other learners in writing, which is her passion and her career. As part of the writing group, they critique each other’s work, much like a professional writing group. Based on feedback from the group and more detailed feedback from her writing teacher, Katrina uses the other three days a week to write or chose into more focused lessons with an online provider to support grammar, usage, and content development structures.

1:15 — The Pop-Up Learning Experiences change frequently. Offered twice a week at the learning center, these are learning providers that offer short, new experiences for free. Typically the providers are completing an authorization process to add their experience to the rich menu of opportunities already available for students. The learning center has elected to serve as an authorization base to support new providers and includes learners in providing feedback to the providers while using the learning experiences as a chance to add specific content to a goal they may have or explore new topics.

Today’s Pop-Up is focused on a biology lab and matches Katrina’s goals based on the competencies they identified in their pitch. Facilitated by a collaborative of teachers that offer a project-based science curriculum using environmental challenges, this Pop-Up is testing students’ interests in exploring DNA forensics and genetics. Katrina’s science goals are focused on the scientific method, so this is a perfect opportunity to build evidence towards her goals.

4:05 — With ten other students of different ages, Katrina catches a bus to the senior supported living center a few miles out of town. This is the first year she committed to a long -term project focused on nutrition. This project included a basic course in nutrition, a stint with a community garden, cooking classes (including the chemistry of cooking for students prepared for higher level content) and now the senior center kitchen, where she is part of a team planning and budgeting for the center’s unique nutritional needs. Sam thought this would be a good match for Katrina. Not only does it give her exposure to a lot of different resources in the community, as well as many different types of projects, but it serves to meet science academic qualifications, an area where Katrina is showing great aptitude and interest already. Sam is working hard to provide Katrina with experiences that will begin to transition her to relevant, community-based explorations.

Beginning around age 14, Katrina struggled significantly to find her place socially and academically. She had spent years at the learning center, supported by her learner advocate Sam, surrounded by peers and adults that she trusted and knew deeply; she had built a set of skills to choose learning experiences that aligned to her needs and aspirations, and reflected different formats to ensure she could meet the rigor of more advanced learning outcomes; and, she had transitioned beyond a formal academic setting, beginning to engage more frequently with community-based opportunities. However, these transitions to a more open environment presented an opportunity for Katrina to make choices that weren’t healthy. As with many adolescents, Katrina began to experiment across multiple social situations and with a variety of drugs and alcohol. Social hierarchy took priority over academics and her family and Sam lost their influence on Katrina’s choices.

The flexibility of the learning system enabled her family and her learner advocate to respond to Katrina’s challenges in unique ways. This not only included changing learner advocates to one who was more experienced with adolescence and the requirements and demands of higher education but allocating learning dollars to services that supported Katrina’s social and emotional development needs as well.

Over time, and with targeted support, Katrina’s learning playlists reflected greater and greater academic rigor, community-based engagement and interdisciplinary study. By 16, most of her learning goals were met through internships and at the community college enabling her to transfer credits to the university.

Moving into post-secondary experiences, Katrina continues a trajectory for meeting her personal and professional goals. With only 12 more credits left to complete her Bachelors of Science in Environmental Health, her competency dashboard and electronic portfolio reflect a committed learner that acts with agency, a clear sense of self, and a core set of competencies that will serve her in her future career and beyond. It is clear that her early learning experiences set a clear pathway in the sciences. Her work in community gardens, internships with the county health department and a team of mentors that supported her at various stages of learning were foundational to today’s success.

Katrina’s schedule reflects the following:

8:30 — Every morning Katrina works as an administrative assistant in the Division of Laboratory Sciences. At 17, her learning advocate David introduced her to a mentor in the field of Environmental Health. Her mentor has been instrumental in helping her chart an academic pathway as well as make connections in the field, including at the National Center where she landed her first job. With the help of David and her mentor, Katrina not only identified Georgia State University as the right match for her studies but was able to take online courses in Colorado using her educational dollars to meet core competencies in the field. By getting a head start on university courses, college became an option for Katrina.

6:00 — A student in Environmental Epidemiology, she explores the key health effects of environmental exposures and the epidemiologic methods used to identify and estimate those effects. The course is not only significant since it represents one of the final degree requirements, but is in preparation for a global internship that Katrina was chosen for next year. Sponsored by the Global Health Institute, she will head to the Guatemalan site for Behrhorst Partners for Development and focus on chronic childhood malnutrition.

Katrina, 26, completed a doctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Pediatric Nutrition and has accepted a position with Children’s Hospital Colorado providing clinical services in their newborn division. She serves as a mentor in the ReSchool Colorado system, working with young women in exploring opportunities in science.

Although a fictional account of what a learning career could be in a new system, the ReSchool team currently works with potential users of this new system to sharpen aspects of this design. I can only imagine the questions that may emerge from an exploration of a learner’s journey. Through partnerships with community organizations, homeschool families, students, adults that serve as mentors and advocates, and learning providers that meet the unique needs of learners outside of the current formal school structure, our prototypes and pilots reflect a gaining momentum towards a new, parallel system designed to wrap around the needs and aspirations of each learner.

We invite you to follow the dialogue through social media on May 3 when we will convene a diverse group of thought leaders to explore this rebundled system of learning.

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