Author Archive

Blazing the Pathway on College and Career: Q&A with Paul Morris

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Paul Morris is on the forefront of a slate of college-and-career efforts across Delaware, bringing his expertise on employer partnerships at the postsecondary to the K-12 world.

We talked to the associate vice president for workforce development at Delaware Tech about his very busy school year ahead.

 

Everyone knows about Delaware Technical Community College and the great things you guys provide in terms of career training for high school grads or adults continuing their education. But when did this notion of getting to kids while they’re still in high school first enter your radar?

 

Delaware Tech has been engaging school-aged youth for over 40 years in Delaware. The college has hosted numerous federal programs such as Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search, serving thousands of middle and high school students during that time period. We also interact with approximately 1,500 to 2,000 youth each summer and throughout the school year through our career, specialty, and sports camps. Lastly, over the past 10 years, we have partnered with all f the school districts within Delaware offering dual enrollment opportunities for students looking to earn college credits while in high school.

 

And what, specifically, is your role in Pathways and/or work-based learning?

 

Delaware Tech has been a key member of the Delaware Pathways team since its inception four years ago. Our high school advanced manufacturing program was the first pathway offered and was the model for the other pathways as it offered advanced college credits, meaningful work-based learning experiences, and portable credentials.

Delaware Tech is connected to every pathway currently offered through Delaware Pathways. Additionally, due to the college’s history with engaging and supporting employers in Delaware, we were chosen to perform the duties of intermediary for work-based learning from the onset. Within this role, we are responsible for operating the Office of Work-Based Learning, which engages employers, schools, and students to develop and deliver a continuum of work-based learning activities for students from seventh grade through the first two years of postsecondary education. The ultimate goal of these activities is to ensure our youth are both college and career ready upon graduation.

 

Why do you think Pathways has taken off in Delaware the way that it has?

 

Pathways meets two important but specific needs. First, it provides secondary school students with the opportunity to become both college and career ready upon graduation. Students have many opportunities through the program to engage with employers and professionals within their chosen career field to better prepare them for the workforce. Second, Pathways creates an employer engagement structure so that employers understand the benefits and can easily connect with qualified students who have an interest in their specific career area.

 

What are some of your favorite Pathways success stories you like to tell?

 

My favorite success story is about a young man named “Joe.” He came from a blue collar middle class family from New Castle. He was a superstar in the manufacturing program from day one. He excelled in the hands-on portion of the program and wanted to transition into working within the manufacturing industry upon graduation. Joe had a couple of opportunities for work once he graduated, but chose to accept an unpaid internship at a local company that he desired to work at long term. He did such a great job with that internship that the company offered him a contracting position. Due to his work ethic and long-term vision, he continued to excel and was recently hired directly by the company. He is doing great and is planning to continue his studies in a post-secondary program in his field.

 

There are a lot of efforts unfolding in the college and career-prep world. What are you most excited about here at the start of a new school year?

 

I’m most excited about the work we are doing within the Office of Work-Based Learning. We are building the framework so that thousands of Delaware students will have the opportunity to participate in meaningful work-based learning activities. These activities will range from awareness activities like visiting a company on a structured tour to immersion activities like a paid internship. These activities will assist students in making college and career decisions upon graduation. They will provide students with documented work experience to inform their resumes. These activities will also help Delaware companies build a much-needed pipeline of trained workers for the future.

 

What are Industry Councils and what will they do/accomplish?

 

Industry Councils are groups of individuals representing a specific industry convened to inform the educational and business communities on the trends, needs, and partnership opportunities within the industry. Typically, a council will have an executive committee that will meet quarterly and create sub-committees as needed. The executive committee will hold an annual public meeting where they will go over their annual report and engage with members of the public.

 

You get to engage with all sides of the equation, so to speak. What’s your go-to selling point for employers when it comes to WBL? How about for parents or high school students?

 

Engaging and partnering with Delaware Pathways and the Office of Work-Based Learning is a key strategy in building a sustainable pipeline of future trained workers. These types of partnerships allow companies to inform curriculum, build relationships with students, and develop working relationships with educational and training providers. Employers will have the ability to create a specific pipeline that will feed their hiring needs in the future.

Participating within Delaware Pathways and specifically work-based learning activities is a no-brainer for students. They will graduate high school with a defined career path and valuable work experience within their chosen industry. They will have an opportunity to earn industry- recognized credentials, college credits, and build work readiness and soft skills that will further enhance their ability to enter the workforce after graduation. Our ultimate goal is to ensure students are both college and career ready upon graduation.

 

Let’s say I’m a business owner and I’m interested. What do I do? What’s my first step?

 

The first step is to contact the Office of Work-Based Learning at:

The Office of Work-Based Learning

(302) 857-1651
cj.kuhn@dtcc.edu

www.delawarepathways.org/owbl

 

 

Mastering the Art of Competency-Based Learning: Q&A with KnowledgeWorks

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Virgel Hammonds and Abbie Forbus are two leaders behind KnowledgeWorks, a group that partners with national policymakers and local learning communities to redesign classrooms to become more learner-centered. The basic idea is progress and grading that’s based on proficiency or mastery, rather than seat time and averaged grades.

 

We spoke to Virgel and Abbie as the Rodel Teacher Council working group wraps up its yearlong research and advocacy around competency-based learning. Teacher Council members engaged every college and university in Delaware and got them to agree in writing that competency-based transcripts are accepted by their admissions offices—and not a hindrance to prospective applicants.

 

 

Let’s say you’re out at a cocktail party or talking to a family member—how would you describe competency-based learning to someone who is not an education insider?

 

Abbie: Basically I think of competency-based education (CBE) as bringing equity into the learning experience. It gives all kids a shot, because we know that all students can learn, but at different paces and in different ways. What CBE does is bring a common vision for all kids to learn, as well as a transparent curriculum, so that kids can own their learning and develop their agency, instead of just teachers holding the vision.

 

Virgel: If it were explaining it to my grandmother—well, first, it would be in Spanish. After that I would say that it’s about moving kids through school based on their actual readiness, not just an averaged collection of grades. And I’d say that it’s about making sure students are working at a challenging level and truly getting ready for the next step in their educations.

 

Like Abbie said, kids are completely different learners with different types of needs. Grandma would understand that one of her grandkids could walk before the age of one and tie her shoes before four; that all kids have their unique strengths and opportunities for learning that are presented to them in different ways. So what if we could adjust our schools and learning environments so that it works for the superstar grandkid as well as for all their peers?

 

Abbie: We went to school when things were averaged. The idea of averaged grades means you could have a high school student graduating with straight D’s who has lots of holes in their knowledge. Or you could have a students who got an A, but who now feels like they are done with their learning—they’re not digging deeper, or challenging themselves further. I got the A and I’m done.

 

If we’re averaging learning opportunities for kids, even the ones who’ve been successful—let’s say 80 percent—there’s still 20 that’s missing. Those gaps get bigger and bigger as they continue through school until the student eventually experiences struggles.

 

 

What are some of the myths or anxieties you find yourself having to help people through?

 

Virgel: That teachers are paramount in supporting kids in reaching competency in truly personalized ways. The myth is that this whole concept of personalized learning and competency-based education is about tech. But teachers are critically important in developing relationships and trust among their students that will allow these models to flourish.

 

Abbie: Personalized learning existed before students had computers. They’re just a great tool that we have today. People also seem to think that CBE means that class is chaotic or changing all the time. It’s not. All it means is that we want kids to be met where they need to be met. It’s about taking the best teaching practices that have been around forever and making sure that all kids have access to it.

 

Virgel: Abbie and I have a working relationship as teachers and school leaders that goes way back to early 2000s, so we share a lot of stories. One common one that I love sharing is from when we were first implementing CBE, and we were getting lots of feedback constantly from kids and community members to make sure we were living up their vision of learning. And one kid said to us: “You’re not going to let us fail, because everyone is held to the same standard and you’re making sure all kids are getting to where they need to be.” How perfect is that?

 

I think of competency-based education as bringing equity into the learning experience. It gives all kids a shot, because we know that all students can learn, but at different paces and in different ways. It brings a common vision for all kids to learn, as well as a transparent curriculum, so that kids can own their learning and develop their agency, instead of just teachers holding the vision.Abbie Forbus, KnowledgeWorks

 

Tell us about how can SBL help students who may otherwise be left behind in the default system? How is this going to help students who are struggling academically?

 

Abbie: In our experience, because all learners have to prove proficiency and mastery, the holes in their learning or understanding of a subject become much more obvious much more quickly. We’re not waiting years to find these holes.

 

Virgel: One critical element where oftentimes people can go astray is when you hold kids to competency standards without a strong competency continuum. Yes it’s important to set expectations for learning, but what carries it through is when you have that well-defined continuum that’s uber transparent.

 

When teachers work together with an aligned learning continuum, together they can hold students accountable to proficiency before handing them off to the next grade level or learning experience. That allows us to be transparent about what a child knows and what gaps exist…and then provide direct support to close the gap.

 

We can correlate that data with other kids to let us address those holes in a quicker manner than we have in the past. The starting point is holding our kids accountable to the same standards—the how and when are variables. What exactly does competency and mastery look like? Teachers, kids and the community at large have to understand what competency looks like for every level of learning.

 

When we’re talking about CBL, what can we do to help spread this concept even wider? What have you seen work well in other parts of the country?

 

Abbie: Putting a network together. When Virgel and I started, there weren’t many schools doing it. There wasn’t much to learn from. There’s no phonebook for CBE. Trying to connect people and schools together—that’s a huge part of the work. When teachers thrive, they’re often learning form their peers.

 

Virgel: One critical element that we facilitate in communities and cohorts, is what a portrait of a graduate looks like. What do they want them to know, behave, look like—if all things are ideal? The knowledge, the strengths, the system for how we build, support, and nurture our kids from birth thru graduation. It’s not about what happens at high school, it’s about how do we as a community bring the supports, services, and interventions to all our kids so that they are meeting that portrait of a graduate. Stakeholder groups all have a role in that, and I think that’s a critical first step in terms of connecting educators in understanding how their role shifts. You have great trust and a great network of teachers that you’re nurtured in Rodel. Try some new things that they can reflect on collectively. Those are great strategies.

 

Another interesting part is how you include kids in this redesign. If kids feel a sense of ownership and like they’re part of the redesign, it’s going to make that design process that much more effective and innovative. They’ll be going back to their friends, their neighbors, their blogs, saying—‘Guess what I get to do with my school?

 

Are there different approaches to “selling” this concept to different audiences? I imagine there are different selling points for policymakers, for instance, than there with parents, or superintendents, etc.

 

Virgel: A big part of the process is to engage and create models along with community groups to figure out common beliefs, the culture of their community, and so forth, so that we as a supporter of their vision can help move them forward.

 

Abbie: It all stems from the needs of the community and their vision for learning. This is not a transformational school/turnaround system. We’re working on what’s best for kids and helping communities build around that. What we find is they’re not okay with eight out of 10 kids graduating, or test scores not being where they should be, or kids dropping out of college. It’s really important that they see the need and want their kids to be more successful.

 

Virgel: What if you, as an educator or a community member, can say ‘We have a learning community collectively supporting the success of every child.’ That we are all going to support all our kids and the education that we provide them through our K-12 system that will prepare them for the rigors of whatever they pursue afterward. Taking what every parent wants for their child—that’s really what helps a community make this commitment. The best part about this vision is it’s an investment in their community. And the kids come back because they felt such support from their community that they want to come back as adults to bring that support back. It happens magically almost every time. They might go pursue other opportunities but many take what they learned in their K-12 and say this is my opportunity to give back.

 

You’ve been engaged on a small level with the Rodel Teacher Council. They’ve actually gotten every single college and university in our state to agree in concept that CB transcripts are accepted and not a hindrance to the application process–and they even put it in writing—what are your thoughts on that approach?

 

Virgel: I like it. What it could lead to is a conversation about–what are your expectations of prerequisite skills, the competencies you want as a college, and then how to we reverse-engineer that for students? And then vice versa: How can you learn from our approach to ensure you continue those differentiated learning opportunities at the higher learning level?

 

It’s smart to start with higher ed because one question we hear a lot from parents is: What does CBE mean in relation to in higher ed? Having that green light or thumbs up will help alleviate concerns from parents, knowing that they’re kids won’t be at a disadvantage.

 

I’ve seen in states like Rhode Island, where they’ve been engaged on this work on a statewide basis, that they invite their higher ed partners to their community conversations. The higher ed folks often say, ‘This is not a big deal to us, we see transcripts from around the world.’ And really what a competency-based transcript does is provide a clearer picture of what your graduates actually know.

The Power of Place: Q&A with Evelyn Edney of Early College High School @ DSU

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Dr. Evelyn Edney and her faculty like to joke about the 79,000 hats on the wall of her office, one for each duty she must perform as head of a small but growing—in both size and impact—charter school in Dover.

 

Since 2015, Edney has led the Early College High School at Delaware State University, a public charter high school where students get a true taste (and more) of the college experience. Following their exploratory freshman year, students begin taking bona fide college classes at next-door-neighbors Del State, where they can accumulate up to 60 college credits in addition to a whole lot of learning.

 

Edney preaches about the “power of place”—that is, the stark reality of entering a college classroom as a high school student, sitting next to older college kids and absorbing college-level coursework. “They have this realization that they can do it,” she says.

 

That power is paying off. At ECHS (which the Rodel Foundation helped establish), students are outpacing state averages in SAT language arts scores with a high population of low-income and minority students. In 2014 the school earned a Charter School Performance Fund award from the state.

 

As Edney and the ECHS crew prepared for their first-ever graduation ceremonies, we took the opportunity to ask a few questions.

 

What can you tell us about the Early College High School @ DSU model? What makes it different than the so-called typical high school experience?

 

At ECHS, there are two campuses—one, a Freshmen Academy and the other, an actual college campus. A typical day in the Freshmen Academy involves a half an hour breakfast, then four 90-minute periods that include core courses and electives with a 30-minute lunch, and finally a one-hour Advisory/activity period. The academics are broken into semesters to mirror the college.

 

On the college campus, DSU to be precise, the 10th, 11th, and 12th graders are housed. Sophomores are mainly still taking high school classes, and juniors and seniors are mainly taking college courses (12-15 credits per semester).

 

Why focus on three areas—Agribusiness, Forensic Biology and Community Health—in particular?

 

During the first year of the school, the focus was STEM, and those were the chosen pathways for students. But after some time, students developed interests outside of the STEM focus, so the ECHS administration approached DSU about changing the STEM focus to a STEM+ focus. They have, since then, allowed the students to “major” in 41 out of the 42 majors and concentrations that DSU has to offer (with Aviation being the only holdout due to students not being old enough to fly a plane).

 

Who are the ECHS students? Why do they enroll here versus another school?

 

The 420 students at ECHS come from all three counties in the State of Delaware. They enroll in the program to get a “leg up” in being afforded the opportunity to take up to 60 college credits while in high school. There is no program of its kind for miles around. Parents are also thrilled about the potential savings on college tuition.

 

Why is it important for students to have access to college-level coursework while they are still in high school?

 

Students should be challenged every day in school. Most schools have somewhere between 24-30 credits. Even with that, there are gaping holes in students’ schedules, particularly in the senior year. Students should be challenged in that year and have more access to college courses through dual enrollment programs. Not having access to college-level coursework is a travesty, but it happens every day.

 

We know there can be barriers for students to take college-level coursework in high school. What are some of the supports that ECHS has developed to help students find success?

 

Turning 14 year-olds into college students overnight could be a nightmare if there was not a way to monitor their progress and determine which students needed the most support. In 2015, ECHS school leaders developed the ECHS College Readiness Rubric to do just that. It measures the whole student each grade reporting period in the factors of grades, attendance, behavior, scores on larger assessments, and teacher recommendations.

 

The ECHS College Readiness Rubric allows students to self-govern, so that they can see their strengths and areas for development. The ECHS staff can do the same. This is used to identify students who need more supports in place. That comes in the form of a Response to Intervention (RtI) class, homework help, tutoring, etc.

How is ECHS supporting students to think about college majors and careers that they might want to pursue?

 

There are two ways that ECHS works with students regarding majors/careers. First, having DSU as a partner is wonderful place to start students thinking about the majors/careers they want to pursue. They have worked with our students in many ways to provide experiences that shed light on different careers and about the majors. ECHS students have been invited to participate in science labs, an SAP software competition, math and ecology integration, and other academic experiences. In addition, ECHS students have been able to participate in the DSU band and DSU chorus, mentorships with DSU students in varying majors.

 

The second way that ECHS supports students to think about college majors and careers is through the Advisory program. The role of the advisor is to assist the student in making reasoned choices, acquiring needed skills, and serving as the “reality check” that will make college possible. The “hidden curriculum” of the Advisory program is to create a situation where the student has connected on a much deeper level with at least one person in the ECHS school community.

 

The Advisory program is a four-year program. In the ninth grade year, the focus is on college readiness, so students spend the year learning the skills needed to become college ready. The 10th grade year is devoted to choosing a program of study. Junior and senior years are devoted to working on a Capstone Project, a study of some topic—inquiry-based or problem-based—within the major.

How do high school students usually react to taking courses with college students?

 

At first ECHS students are completely frightened about taking college courses with college students, but after a while, they realize they can hold their own and they are fine. ECHS students tend to do well in the classes with very few of them failing college courses during the last four years.

 

ECHS talks a lot of about 21st skills that all students will need as future leaders. Can you give us an idea of what that means and how you’re helping to build those skills?

 

ECHS promotes the following 21st skills within the Advisory program, positive behavior support program (Hornet PRIDE, Catch it!), and through project-based learning:  problem solving, creativity, analytic thinking, collaboration, communication, ethics, action, and accountability. The Advisory program allows students to collaborate and communicate while learning college readiness skills. The Hornet PRIDE, Catch it! PBS program helps students with accountability for one’s own actions and words. Students also learn problem solving, creativity, analytic thinking, as well as the other skills through project-based learning.

 

In December 2017, we released a landscape analysis on Supporting Postsecondary Success in Delaware. Through this research, 54 percent of students indicated that parents/family members have been most helpful in preparing them for their future (college/career)—a much higher percentage than teachers or counselors. How do you encourage parent and family engagement?

 

Parent and Family engagement looks different in high school than it does in other schools. It’s not about mom and dad sitting in the back of Johnny’s classroom because he is acting up in class. It’s about having a quiet place to study, a designated time to study, monitoring peer groups, etc. It’s about showing up whenever you can and partnering with the school by monitoring school work. ECHS invites parents to partner. There is a strong PTSA. Because parents come from all three counties, the PTSA meetings rotate between the counties so parents can attend. Also, there is Zoom Conferencing available for all meetings so that parents can attend without physically being there.

 

Parents are on the ECHS Board. They help to make the important decisions about the school.

 

Tell us about some of your students and what excites you about their futures.

 

Willow Bowen and Christy Malone are the No. 1 and No. 2 students in the senior classes respectively. They are attending Stanford and University of Pennsylvania in the fall. They have earned over 55 college credits (or more by the end of the semester), and their futures are so bright because of all they accomplished at ECHS. They have all A’s and B’s on their report cards with all A’s in their college classes. This is what ECHS is all about!

 

Then there are the students who did not start out being college ready who worked hard to get there; countless numbers. We are so excited for them!

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