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New Program Aims To Push All Vt. Students Past High School

Flanked by educators and state education officials, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday announced the  statewide launch of Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) for all students.

The plans are already in place at some schools in the state, but legislation taking effect this year requires all schools to adopt the practice. The goal of the PLP program is to create a path for all Vermont students toward post-secondary education.

Shumlin said the mandate won’t require additional resources, but will institutionalize best practices.

“I would argue we’re not asking teachers and administrators to do anything they’re not doing now,” Shumlin said. “We’re just asking that there be a formal process that allows other teachers in classes forward to have a system by which they can see where that student is headed, what work has been done, and how we can help to achieve the goal.”

Using a combination of traditional classroom education, community internships, early college classes and independent or customized studies, teachers and advisors work with each student to tailor an education plan. Meetings to craft these plans start in seventh grade, and each student’s plan is reevaluated annually.

For advanced students, the plans create an institutional framework through which high school students can take classes for college credit, but officials said the programs would help any and all students. Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe told the story of a student she met who was on the verge of dropping out of school.

Instead, through a personalized alternative class, the student designed and developed a community park, working with everything from budgeting to pitching the project to local officials. Now, the student is planning to go to college.

“When I asked him what the difference was,” Holcombe said, “and why he’s so excited about school, what he said was: ‘Because it matters. For the first time, I see why it matters. I see why needing to be able to put together a budget, or read or write, or communicate persuasively in public – I now know why that matters.’”

Shumlin recalled to students at Champlain Valley Union High School that his education in Vermont was difficult because he is dyslexic.

“For the 10 percent of you in this audience that learn differently, which tends to be about right, I just want you to know that this is for you too, and that really the idea here is that whether you are dyslexic like me and don’t learn traditionally, or whether you excel traditionally or whether you’re somewhere in the middle, our job is to have an educational system where everybody succeeds,” Shumlin said.

Success has never been more important, Shumlin said, because there is very little hope of wealth and stability for students who don’t continue education beyond college. Shumlin said one year of education learning how to use computerized manufacturing equipment can be the difference “between a $9 or $10 an hour job or a job that starts, for example at GE Rutland, for 34 bucks an hour plus benefits.”

The days are over, Shumlin said, when a high school education was enough.

“We cannot say to any student in Vermont: ‘We have confidence that you’re going to have a bright future if you don’t get some training beyond high school,’” Shumlin said. “And our job is to make sure we have a system in place where we push them beyond high school.” 

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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