Student-centered learning is gaining traction in school systems across our nation. School systems are looking to give students greater choice and voice in their learning as they personalize and blend instruction. All of these efforts focus on improved student engagement and student-led learning initiatives. In the Meriden Public Schools, Here Students Succeed.
With funding from national foundations such as the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Gates Foundation, and Dalio Foundation, districts are going to have the opportunity to receive the financial and technical support necessary to create schools where students and staff want to be. As school systems are being asked to do more and more, funding options from private foundations are allowing districts to be innovative during one of the most depressing periods of educational funding in our nation’s history.
Setting the Foundation
Schools making the transition to student-centered learning environments must start by increasing academic rigor for all students and assuring that students and staff adopt a growth mindset. Collapsing levels, eliminating course prerequisites, adopting no zero grading policies, and assuring that facilities are properly equipped are the first steps on the student-centered learning journey (http://www.meridenk12.org/Schools/High_Schools/Student-Centered-Learning/Roadmap-to-Student-Centered-Learning/). To assure that the foundation will support this student-centered learning transition, school systems must be sure to implement, with the support of the community partners, devices and digital content, and with professional development the staff will need.
It is essential that Board of Education policy and all stakeholders support this endeavor. Working with the Board to adopt student-centered learning approaches, mastery-based training, and technology-rich environments are essential. Bring Your Own Device guidelines and one-to-one district issued device programs support implementation. However, policy and devices alone will be useless if there is not digital content in place to personalize and differentiate the learning for students. Discovery Education, Imagine Learning, myON, MIND Research Institute’s ST Math are just a few of the digital content providers supporting our teachers and students. Community Learning Walks provide local stakeholders with an opportunity to visit classrooms and see firsthand the positive changes occurring in our schools.
Supporting the Team
While students have been anxiously awaiting the shifts in education, we must be sure that our teachers receive the personalized support they need as well. Technology Integration Specialists and Student-Centered Learning Coaches work side-by-side with our teaching staff and report directly to the Supervisor of Blended Learning. Together, they are assuring teacher comfort level with the digital content, the devices, and the teacher as a facilitator teaching model. Fully 100 percent of our teachers have met with a student-centered learning coach and 97 percent of our teachers met with a Technology Integration Specialist. Our teachers are embracing these professional learning systems because they are comfortable working with their colleagues in their schools and classrooms. We know when teachers learn, our students learn.
As the Meriden Public Schools, in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the Dalio Foundation, has embarked on our journey to student-centered learning, we have seen significant gains on academic and climate measures. The district saw greater growth on SBAC in English Language Arts and Mathematics than the State. All grade levels exceeded the national average growth on the STAR Reader assessment and PSAT scores were at an all-time high. Especially important, students and staff perceptions of a positive school climate evidenced double digit increases and suspension, expulsion, and arrests showed dramatic decreases. This all occurred as advanced placement participation and graduation rates improved. So, let student-centered learning be your roadmap to success.
—Mark D. Benigni is the superintendent of Meriden Public Schools. Barbara A. Haeffner is the district’s director of curriculum and instructional technology.