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EHS Adds New Self-Designed Project Option for Students

August 28, 2020
Throughout the 2019-20 school year, a team of Essex Westford School District faculty and staff worked on developing a new flexible pathway pilot program at Essex High School. This student-designed learning experience will be called Discovery and will be taught this fall by EHS English teacher Adam Murray.  


Discovery will provide students the opportunity to personalize their educational experience by engaging in a self-designed project. This process encourages students to learn about themselves and strengthen their organizational and communication skills by exploring a question, idea, or dream that they may have. 


“We are excited that this pilot has come together for EHS students, as it is a model that incorporates the essential components of an engaging, personalized learning experience,” said EWSD Director of Learning and Instructional Impact Jackie Ramsay-Tolman.


In the spring of 2019, student forums were held across all EWSD middle schools and the high school to find ways to make personalized learning plans (PLP) more authentic and applicable to a students’ experience. 


One of the ideas that students brought forward was the notion to use their PLP to earn high school credit outside of taking a traditional class. “There is research that shows that extended learning opportunities like this are most successful for students when they are given time and support within schools, which influenced the decision to develop Discovery,” said EWSD Learning Systems Manager Arik Mortenson. 


In Discovery, students will develop a project idea through an advisory and create a plan for accomplishing it during the first half of the school year. Each student may be working on something completely different and each week they will focus their project and adapt their plan as needed based on what they have learned.


During the third quarter, students will begin engaging in their projects. The class will take place during the school day so that students have the flexibility to work on what they need to, including seeking mentorship in the community, working on something at home, working on refining their project plan, or reflecting on what they have accomplished so far. The work that students complete will be documented within their PLP, reflecting a series of plans, evidence, and reflections from throughout their experience.


“Student demonstration of proficiency will truly be individualized and specific to the student's work,” said Murray. “They could create videos, podcasts, write articles, create tangible products (a board game, a better mousetrap, a time machine), or demonstrate their learning and mastery of transferable skills in other ways that I haven’t even thought of yet. I think this is what is so interesting about this class.”


If students are interested in participating in Discovery, they should reach out to their school counselor at EHS. 


The Vermont Legislature passed Act 77, also known as the Flexible Pathways initiative, in 2013 to increase flexible learning opportunities for students across the state.