On Thursday, December 7th, youth and adults from across Vermont gathered at the State House in Montpelier to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the passing of Act 77, the Flexible Pathways legislation, which “promotes … high-quality educational experiences that acknowledge individual goals, learning styles, and abilities.” Organized by UP for Learning in partnership with the Agency of Education, the Vermont’s Principal Association (VPA), the McClure Foundation and Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative, the convening included vibrant stories, community building, reflection, joy, and discussions of what is next for personalized, student-centered learning in Vermont. 

At the start of the gathering, attendees viewed this film that highlights one of the many “Bright Spots” in student-centered learning, SoundCheck, a band of Vermont high school youth who create and perform music to fight for social justice. The students work with music educators, prominent singer-songwriters and anti-racist educators to develop original material that tackles racism, injustice and hate.  The band performs and facilitates workshops at schools using art and music as a catalyst to spark dialogue, action and awareness. The video captures the opportunity that SoundCheck provides for youth to explore their passion and develop purpose and action. It starts with a look at the creation of the 2016 song “Our Time,” which expressed the group’s vision for student-centered learning, and then focuses on the progress of their current work, a song entitled “We the People.” The video provides an opportunity to compare the vision they had for learning with their new creative project. Attendees then heard from youth from around the state as they shared their experiences with carving out their own paths for learning. Among them were Habitat for Aviation, an apprenticeship program which trains youth, particularly young women, to become aviation technicians for conventional and electric aircraft. Attendees also heard from a student at the Renaissance Program at Twinfield Union High school, who designed her own curriculum of Victorian feminist literature, Arabic, drums, running, and activism! A team from Otter Valley Moosalamoo Center spoke about the power and challenge inherent in their nature-based classroom, and youth attending the Central Vermont Career Center spoke of the immense benefit of learning a trade like cosmetology, how they can step right into well-paying jobs after completion of their programs. 

Participants then attended breakout sessions in which they could discuss the present and future of flexible pathways in small groups. Some of the questions included, “Why do you  believe in flexible pathways and equitable student-centered learning?,”  “What challenges or wonders have we encountered that lend themselves as opportunities for change?”  and “What if in the next 10 years schools had the structures and systems in place to implement equitable, student-centered learning  with fidelity. What would you see as a result of this work?” These sessions were expertly facilitated by UP youth facilitators from over ten different Vermont schools. 

After the gathering, UP Program Director Pat LaClair remarked, “A highlight [of the day] for me was seeing so many youth facilitators stepping into their roles at a new level. I sensed that it was a stretch for a few of them, but their rising to it was a testament to UP’s approach to supporting and empowering them and their sense of confidence in their abilities. I certainly have never attended any conference-type event of this size with such a high level of youth involvement, so I hope it was a real paradigm-shifting moment for anyone who might not have been able to imagine how an “adult” conference space and topic could be inviting to/accessible to/and exponentially better because of young people’s engagement.” 

We want to express our gratitude to all of the presenters and participants and our incredible UP youth facilitators for their work to make the day such a resounding success. We are also so grateful to have had such a beautiful venue to host the convening, and want to thank the Vermont legislators for attending the event and permitting us to celebrate this milestone in the place where it was passed into law ten years ago. We will be sharing more stories, photos, videos, and reflections on the event (and what’s next!) on our website and on our social media in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned!