$200K grant to support new learning model at Turners Falls High School

  • Turners Falls High School. Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Published: 12/13/2017 7:32:32 PM

TURNERS FALLS — By the 2019-2020 school year, Turners Falls High School plans to revamp its internship and college dual-enrollment programs, while also pioneering a new competency-based model of education to fit different learning styles.

The initiative, which is being called “Powertown in the 21st century,” is funded by a $200,000 grant from the Barr Foundation, a Boston nonprofit that among other things tries to help students achieve success in high school and beyond.

The program will involve a design team and School Council that will convene monthly to conduct research into emerging models of secondary education and ensure graduation is based on demonstrations of competency rather than accrual of credit only.

Annie Leonard, principal at Turners Falls High School, said the grant will allow the school to improve existing programs while starting new ones.

“One of the main reasons we pursued this grant opportunity is we have existing partnerships that have supported us having internships and work-based learning opportunities on the one hand, and dual-enrollment opportunities on other hand,” she said. “What we don’t have, and few schools have, is an overall competency-based assessment of student learning.”

Currently, Leonard said, 10 juniors and seniors attend Greenfield Community College on a part-time or full-time basis while making progress toward their high school diplomas.

About 15 students are routinely involved with the Jobs and Beyond program, and another 15 enroll in a school-to-career class that involves an internship component, Leonard said. Organizations that students have been involved with include The Brick House in Turners Falls, the Ja’Duke preschool and Upinngil Farm, she said. Students can also work within the school district’s food service and technology departments.

The long-term goal, Leonard said, is to make such opportunities available to all students.

The design team will be made up of representatives from the school, the regional nonprofit Collaborative for Educational Services, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Greenfield Community College, the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board and the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership.

The Collaborative for Educational Services Executive Director William Diehl said the collaborative, formerly the Hampshire Educational Collaborative, submitted an application for the grant on behalf of Turners Falls High School — one of the many services it offers to local school districts. Additionally, the collaborative will continue to be involved on the design team, which Diehl himself will facilitate.

“We anticipate that this project would make Turners Falls High School a leading contributor to the development in Massachusetts of innovative career pathways,” Diehl said in a statement. “It’s the belief of the partnership that the project will support and expand the school’s core values and beliefs about learning.”

The design team and School Council meetings, Leonard said, are open to the public, though she said there’ll also be community forums to allow staff, students, families and community members to provide input.

“I am so energized by the possibility of working with our families and local partners to build on what we love about (Turners Falls High School) and what is working well for our students, and to determine what we need to do to better prepare our students for their futures beyond high school,” Leonard said. “Combining our traditions with a forward-facing view represents the true Powertown spirit.”

According to Diehl, the team hopes for strong family engagement during the planning process, especially from families of high-needs students such as English language learners, low-income students and students with disabilities for whom competency-based education might be particularly important.

By the 2019-2020 school year, a small group of students are expected to participate in the high school’s new model.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257


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