Several Lamoille South Unified Union Portrait of a Graduate team members embarked on a learning excursion with Next Generation Learning Challenges this past week to visit and learn from Mission Vista High School in Oceanside, CA. The team members included the superintendent, board members, students, teachers, community members and UP for Learning staff. It was an engaging and inspiring week of adventurous learning. This team was able to critically think about educational transformation and will be moving into a strategic planning session that holds their Portrait of a Graduate at the root of change and seeks to answer the brave question: How do we  build a system where all students succeed on their journey regardless of the path they choose? 

Mission Vista High School is a magnet high school with incredible student engagement and branding. This school knows its story. The students, staff, administration, families, community members, and district leadership all share a common understanding of WHY they educate the way that they do and HOW important each person’s name, face, story, and strengths are. The Mission Vista High School structure is designed to help students find pathways of learning. Students are encouraged to try many different paths or delve deep into their interests.  Many youth come away with certifications and skills that will be vital to the college/career paths they choose.  There are two primary pathways at the school: arts and communication and STEAM.  

The learning week was filled with panels from stakeholder groups, classroom visits, learning walks, exposure to the 65+ clubs (including a memorable performance of their TEDx club students). The school leadership described the many ways that Mission Vista is unique, with a 4 by 4 schedule where students are able to take 4 classes per semester for a total of 8 classes throughout the year. This provides ample class time to focus on personalized learning and deep relationships between students and staff. There are countless examples of transformed educational practices at Mission Vista and they are vulnerable, willing, and dedicated to aiding other schools and districts in their efforts to transform.  

NGLC put this learning excursion on with support from the Barr Foundation. The experience was emergent and well designed. There were teams of diverse stakeholders from six schools across New England. The excursion allowed for teams to envision and inspire collective, cross stakeholder driven change and transformation.  It also allowed for connection across New England schools, building community, and networking between districts. 

UP for Learning and LSUU team members who attended are jazzed and inspired to bring back the learning to the entire Portrait of a Graduate team. We will envision the next steps for LSUU in collaboration with the community and are profoundly grateful for the learning, the connections, and the innovative transformative ideas we generated along this journey.  

NOW some words from a LSUU Youth about their experience: Logan LaCoss (10th grade, Peoples Academy)

Next Generation Learning Challenge, What is Next Gen Learning? What does that look like? NGLC is an organization that is dedicated and determined to bring opportunities for personalized learning to schools across America. My name Logan LaCoss I am a sophomore from Peoples Academy High School and I am one of many youth members incorporated with NGLC. Our goal is to achieve academic balance in all schools across America and this is what we’ve done so far. 

Brainstorming ideas. Starting off, we were a team of excellent ideas and curiosity around the subject of personalized learning. Our first hurdle was not knowing where to begin, what was our first step? After our intricate and critically thought inducing meetings there was a finalized plan to start taking our first step, which involved surveying our student voice.  

Data collection and analysis. We knew as a team there cannot be any advancement in our goal if we don’t know how the current student body feels about this question. What certain skills, characteristics, and experiences should a high school graduate have when graduating high school? Our results consisted of common ideas such as being responsible and compassionate, healthy and resilient, being a lifelong learner with confidence and courage. Making sure you’re an effective communicator and a creative problem solver. 

Moving forward. Surveying students and collecting data can answer many questions and support many ideas. It’s also crucial to experience a school’s culture and environment. After forging four key questions: what are the students learning? Where are the students learning? How are the students learning? Who is activating the learning? As a team, we visited our local schools, observed what was happening in the schools asking our four main questions, then analyzed the observations we collected. We found very common attributes and similarities between our local schools. So what was next? 

Traveling nationwide. Once we understood what our school’s struggles consisted of and what our school was doing well, it was time to expand and explore. Thanks to the Bar Foundation and a very generous grant, our team was able to fly coast to coast and visit Mission Vista High School located in Oceanside, California. 

San Diego. Traveling to San Diego sounded bizarre just to visit another school. What I didn’t realize until I got into the school was how rich an experience it is to embrace an entirely different school culture. My team spent two days inside of Mission Vista High School exploring classrooms and embracing the diversity in school culture with complex and engaging meetings. 

Personal takeaways. Being in Southern California for the first time was such a culture rich experience, and being inside of an entirely different school environment was unforgettable. Meeting other students from around the country and learning that they have the same common struggles in their schools was so eye opening and only devoted me more towards the goal of NGLC and the LSUU Portrait of a Graduate Team.