Winooski School District

Cloudy, and 22 °F | Mar 27th: Green Day

Making The Grade: student-centered learning

(NECN: Jack Thurston, Winooski, Vt.) – The Winooski, Vt. Educational Center is offering students a new opportunity for learning. Starting in the fall, students began participating in the “iLab,” which is all about student-centered learning. Kids pick a topic to research in-depth with teacher support. “It gives our small little high school the world for students,” said teacher Nancy Keller.

The iLab doesn’t look much like a traditional classroom. It has beanbag chairs, couches, and brightly-colored walls and furniture. Students partake in warm-up exercises and greet each other in a large circle to start their class, to foster more engagement. “I find that more students thrive in this class than many other classes,” observed Reeve Asselin, a sophomore.

Asselin said he is earning a science credit discovering how to design and build his own computer. If he didn’t choose this as a subject to explore, he told New England Cable News he would be in a traditional biology classroom, and that didn’t interest him as much. “I think this will spread to many different schools,” Asselin said.

In the iLab, there are no quizzes or midterms. Students have a big final paper and have to give a lot of presentations. That approach helped senior Naima Mohamed. The native of Somalia, who said she grew up in Yemen, moved to Vermont with her family a little over five years ago unable to speak or write any English. “I was a shy person,” Mohamed remembered.

Mohamed said sharing her social studies research into differences between Somali and US cultures has boosted her communication skills and confidence. “It helped me to stand in front of people and talk about it,” she told NECN.

Hal Colston, who heads Partnership for Change (http://partnershipvt.org/), a grant-funded project to reshape the high schools in Winooski and neighboring Burlington, said student-centered learning should build proficiencies that prepare students for work, college, and life. The traditional classroom still is vital, Colston said.

“Learning content is important, but having critical thinking, being able to collaborate with different people on projects, being able to clearly communicate; those are really, really essential skills that are needed in the 21st century,” Colston explained.

In Winooski, 55 high schoolers and 20 middle schoolers applied for and were accepted into the iLab program, according to staff. That’s a little over 25 percent of the high school body, educators said. Winooski’s goal is to grow that number, and eventually offer students internships in the community, as a new way to encourage students here to keep “making the grade.”