The Compass & the Canvas: Launching the Success & Innovation Center at Mt Blue Campus
How might we help students with their social-emotional health, their career readiness, and their academic achievement in ways that amplify and enhance that which makes our community great while filling in the cracks through which students tend to fall?
Piloting Multiple Pathways to Proficiency in a Rural Western Maine High School
We wrangled with ideas for well over a year. We banged our heads against personal walls and professional politicking. We muscled through a bout of edu-entropy and pedagogical self-doubt. We annexed a home, spent our budget, signed the contracts, and handed out baskets of granola bars and buckets of ramen noodles.What started as a counseling office and took a turn for makerspace, arrived in Fall 2017 as a promising hybrid of social work and proficiency-based education.
My colleague, Success & Innovation Center Resource Director, Becky Dennison, had been working as a college transitions counselor and educator through our county-wide adult education office. She had been working with both adult education and district administrators on a vision for a student success center — one that would be better able to provide social-emotional and career counseling without having the added stresses of class schedules, IEPs, 504s and other responsibilities that make it challenging for our school counselors to keep pace with student needs.
Meanwhile, while teaching English, I experienced failure to launch on a number of initiatives related to deeper learning including a ninth grade design lab, a team-taught biology and English course, a one-week campus-wide experiential learning experience, and a campus makerspace that was established, programmed, and then dismantled in favor of storage and a new course offering that would need the space. I also pursued — to no avail — leadership positions in curriculum, instruction, school transformation coaching and educational technology in other districts, consultancies and higher ed.
Turns out those rejections led me to a most challenging, rewarding, exhausting and satisfying place.
Our western Maine region has been fortunate to receive tremendous support for students in the form of GEAR UP Maine . A number of districts have been able to offer after school activities, tutoring, college visits and other aspiration-enhancing programs thanks to GU ME. This includes a unique opportunity offered our district and several others: a three-year research grant to develop and pilot a multiple pathways system to success in high school and beyond.
Working alongside Becky and a team of administrators, teachers and staff, we designed a vision for a space that would provide support while breaking stigmas. How might we provide a means to help students who need it most, while treating them just like any other student on campus? How might we assist those students burdened with obvious red flags, while keeping the doors open for students who may conceal those flags? How might we help students with their social-emotional health, their career readiness, and their academic achievement in ways that amplify and enhance that which makes our community great while filling in the cracks through which students tend to fall?
We arrived at the Success & Innovation Center at Mt. Blue Campus, a space that provides both a compass and a canvas for our students. We build plans and workflows, make phone calls and write e-mails, arrange meetings and kibbitz with colleagues. We run Dremels and Spheros, code art work and arduinos, and craft thank you notes and collectible card games. If they make it, they will get it. It’s a long held belief of mine and more and more students at Mt. Blue Campus are living, breathing examples of philosophy in practice.
With Becky’s social work background and my teaching background, coupled with our collective knowledge of our school and community, we feel confident addressing most any challenge a student carries through the door. Whether they need help navigating anxiety, finding enough to eat, uncovering ways to demonstrate their understanding of European history, or exploring the possibilities of microcomputers and robotics, they will find solutions in the SIC.
Open just three months, we’ve delivered direct support to over 350 students on campus, over half of our total school population. The support has taken the shape of one-on-one conferences, whole class instruction, co-teaching, student drop-ins, campus workshops, and even a Meet the Candidate program organized by one of our local legislators, State Senator Tom Saviello, to bring 2018 Maine Gubernatorial Candidates from all parties and affiliations to meet in a small group with students and local businesses right in our space.
We have helped earth science classes investigate space exploration with LEGO Mindstorms robotics, English classes conceptualize games and 3D printed thematic representations, environmental science students design animal identification tools, and social studies students record podcasts.
We have fostered a growing interest in restorative justice practices, provided a system keeping free feminine hygiene products in every girls bathroom on campus, and brought in community health educators to work alongside students on leadership, civic action, and efficacy work.
We’re just getting started. There are still tools and equipment to master and a mile-long list of offerings we want to bring to life before June. Becky and I both need to become better record keepers and learn how to say, “No, we’re busy right now.” But here’s the thing: this is the hardest I’ve ever worked in my nearly 20 years at Mt. Blue Campus. And I cannot get enough of it.
I’ll be sharing more updates into the winter and spring of how things are going in the SIC at MBC, but please comment here, ask questions, shoot me a line on Twitter, email me, engage in whatever dialogue you desire, and follow our work in the Success & Innovation Center at Mt Blue Campus on our Facebook page.
You can follow my valiant attempts at being a good human on Twitter and Instagram as well as visiting DanRyder207.com. Want more ideas for exploring challenging questions and building a culture of acceptance, communication and trust in the classroom? Check out my new book with Amy Burvall, Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom from EdTechTeam Press. Ask for it where better books are sold or grab it from Amazon.