Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BVP High School Part 2: Climbing & Succeeding

by Dave Jose, Founding College & Career Advisor,  BVP High School 

“To prepare all scholars for success in college and the world beyond.”

Blackstone Valley Prep does a great job, from the hiring process, to the training and development of staff, to the day to day expectations, of ensuring that our mission is the overarching focus of our staff and our community. It isn’t enough to prepare 90% or 95% of scholars - we’ve committed ourselves to the firm and unwavering belief that every scholar that steps into any of our schools is climbing the mountain to college but just as important, once there, they will be successful.

Of course, as a part of the founding High School team, there is a renewed sense of urgency to ensure that our scholars are prepared for what the world looks like today. 

What this means is that we have had to work continuously to be able to define what college readiness means for our community. 

We know, for example, that ensuring competency in core content areas ensures that scholars are leaving high school with the content foundations that ensure they are ready to engage fully in college courses, and avoiding the treacherous road of remedial college courses (that cost money but don’t count towards your degree). The idea that core content knowledge is important isn’t new - but it is becoming increasingly evident that cognitive skills are far more important for scholars to master because they will serve them for their entire lives.  Content is therefore a vehicle we use to teach critical skills to ensure our scholars are successful in college and the world beyond.  

By partnering with Summit Public Schools, we are able to revolutionize both the way that scholars interact with content material, while also ensuring that we are preparing scholars with the habits of success and the core cognitive skills that ensure college readiness. Allowing students to work at their own pace ensures the highest level of differentiation, and coupling personalized "playlists" (i.e. personalized activities to complete) with deep, engaging and meaningful projects ensures that scholars are developing the communication, collaboration and organization skills necessary for success.

The ways in which colleges are examining applicants is changing, just as the way in which the measurements of college readiness (Common Core, the new SAT, etc.) are shifting. These changes mean that being able to take a test preparation course shouldn’t and no longer is enough to determine your college readiness. These changes value critical thinking, innovative design, personalized learning, a clear, effective communication and hold those skills at the center of a well-rounded, college-ready individual.

The greatest 21st century high schools have to be innovators for their students' learning. We want to ensure that when they leave us, they have all the tools necessary to encounter whatever the mountain, that is life, has to offer them. The model is clear - we are not the gatekeepers of information, but the people in the tool shed, ensuring that students leave with enough meaningful practice and the right tools for the right challenges. It’s a big step for us - but how else will we get to the top of the mountain?

To read our first entry in this series, please click here.

Monday, June 29, 2015

BVP High School: Much More to Come

This entry by Jeremy Chiappetta, BVP Executive Director, is the first in a series of posts BVP will feature to reflect on our newest partnership. Stay tuned for additional perspectives from our staff and others throughout the week as the series continues.

When BVP opened in 2009, several visitors remarked on the apparent lack of technology in our classrooms.  At the root of the observation was “how will this school prepare ‘scholars’ for the 21st century if they are not being prepared with 21st century tools?”  I almost always responded with a quip along the lines of, “Look, I am not a luddite. My most recent private sector job was as a consultant at IBM. When the technology is ready, BVP will be ready.

In the spring before we opened, I recall visiting several high-performing schools and asking similar questions to teachers and leaders - how are you integrating technology into the classrooms?  The answer was usually “we aren’t.” Or worse: I would witness stacks broken headphones, keyboards with missing keys, and mice that didn’t work.  When probed, even the really expensive software did not appear to drive student achievement.

Thus, when we opened BVP we decided to wait on the technology.

Six years later the times have changed.  In today’s world of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, in this world where some of the world’s finest colleges are publishing curriculum and lectures online for free, the technology is arriving.  Through the Next Generation Learning Challenges Breakthrough Schools program, we opened our high school with a vision to leverage digital tools smartly to drive personalize learning.  From flipping classrooms to a digital language lab, from collaborative writing to coding courses, we are making strides.

Like our first kindergarten classrooms, we are constantly looking to others to improve our work.  It is with all of this in mind that we are thrilled to be collaborating with Summit Public Schools. Over the next year, BVP will take personalized learning to a new level thanks to the opportunities this collaboration will offer. You can read a brief overview of the partnership here.

As always, there is more, much more to come.