"And these relationships help us push the boundaries in personalized learning."
Consider a recent chemistry unit on essential oils. One of Alexia's colleagues heard students ask again and again about these oils. Something about the topic seemed to have piqued their curiosity.
"Many of our young people are our care and treatment students, leaving their residential programs in the morning to spend the educational portion of the day with us," Alexia says. "They might have heard about oils like lavender used as a pathway to support treatment for depression or anxiety."
So Alexia's chemistry colleague crafted an entire project-based learning unit on essential oils. They studied where they come from, what they do to our senses, and how they can help with therapy—all while connecting back to chemistry standards.
Another colleague, a biology forensics teacher, recently helped his students study cancer and why it seems to affect so many people.
"They're Starting to Get Anxious"
It's an approach that helps the teachers and staff at West Education Center Alternative address the whole student, Alexia says, and respond to emotional and social as well as academic needs.
When students and teachers gathered this week to celebrate some recent accomplishments, Alexia says "things were different, the energy was different."
"Over the holidays, some of our students will be leaving the safety and security we're building here at school—and entering situations outside of school that are more challenging," Alexia says. "They're starting to get anxious."
"We're working hard to keep our normal routines between now and break," Alexia says. "That way we can minimize anxiety and stress."
Pearson has partnered with the America's Promise organization to fund and assist these programs in Minnesota and elsewhere. The collaboration was launched this fall.
"The first thing I noticed, was that the class had only three students," says Hillary Stroud. She was in Minnesota recently as a Media and Communities Manager for Pearson, paying a visit to classrooms working hard to graduate the kinds of students who've been tough to graduate.
"Smaller classes mean teachers can tailor their lessons to student needs, even individualize classroom rules," Hillary says. "It also means teachers can spend more time with their students one on one."
"The partnership puts equal focus on addressing the needs of the whole child as well as research," says Stacy Skelly, who is a Director of Media Relations at Pearson.
"This allows us to have pretty good clarity about what's working, what's not working—and about how we might scale these kinds of programs to every state."
When Peggy Rubero first arrived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she fell in love with the people and the quality of life. “It felt like home,” she said, “ I had moved eighteen times before graduating from high school. My father was in the Air Force.”
That’s why Peggy, who is Director of Human Resources at Pearson, jumped at the opportunity to join a program for community leaders in Iowa. “Anything I can do to help in this town—to make this community stronger—I’m happy to do it.”
Through the program, Peggy learned about an “Educator for a Day” event. Participants shadow a teacher to better understand classrooms and learning in the twenty-first century.
Peggy was paired with Dana Melone who teaches AP Psychology at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids.
“I was so impressed,” Peggy says.
A Better View of America's Teachers
From the start—very early in the morning—Peggy marveled at how Dana's class brought high energy to a group discussion about homework reading on cognition and perception theories.
Peggy was shocked to realize students use Twitter to connect with classmates on assignments.
When the class was divided into groups, they were given two instructions: Define a series of terms in their own words, and associate an image with the term they're defining.
“Dana wanted her students to work together, collaborate, use effective communication and build on ideas,” Peggy said. "If they didn’t recall a particular word from the reading—they were able to look it up—but had to write it with a blue marker."
It was assessment in real time, Peggy says. By looking at the words in blue, Dana was able to easily identify which words and concepts her students didn’t grasp from the reading. Her future lessons could be tailored to fill in those gaps.
“Dana was measuring the class’ collective understanding of the reading, but, by asking them to engage with what they didn't know, she was also instilling values of what it takes to be a twenty-first century employee.”
“Being in the classroom was such a great learning experience,” Peggy says.
“We need to do a better job of exposing the public to the modern day experience of teachers.”
Katie McClarty encourages her seven-year-old daughter to make choices at school that are always "working her brain."
"A library book she picked up might be too easy," Katie says. "Are there enough words on the page that she doesn't know? So we talk about how she might challenge herself with a different book that stretches her a little more," Katie says.
Katie's daughter was recently admitted to a gifted learning program in their Texas school district. As the director of Pearson's Center for College and Career Success, Katie says she's been impressed by the level of personalization in the program.
"They're doing a good job evaluating students and matching them with educational resources," Katie says. "Math is my daughter's thing and she's in an accelerated class. Writing is not, so she's in a different class."
Flexibility in Gifted and Talented
Katie’s work with Pearson—and her appreciation for her daughter’s classes—is based on the idea that all children should learn something every day. "Gifted and talented learners may need deeper exploration or they may need to move faster on a particular topic," she says. "It's important that an education system have the flexibility to provide these opportunities."
Katie was herself a gifted learner, growing up in Iowa. “In rural communities,” she says, “there may not be a lot of opportunities to explore at different paces—or meet other learners who needed the same things.”
Summer camps introduced a young Katie to other students with accelerated learning needs. She thrived. Today, she has a doctorate in psychology and an expertise in gifted and talented programs.
"Gifted and talented programs give many children the freedom to be themselves, even push themselves," she says. "Sometimes, you'll even see learning-related behavioral problems disappear once they enter a gifted learning class."
A Mix of Challenges
Katie says she's often asked by parents of gifted learners for guidance navigating the array of program options for their children. "Parents can get easily stressed about picking the right experiences for accelerated learners," she says.
“I always recommend a broader view,” Katie says. “Give them lots of opportunities to be challenged in lots of different ways. Don’t stress about one decision—and you can always reevaluate.”
Katie points to a study published in the Journal of Educational Pschology, led by Jonathan Wai at Duke University. The study talks of educational challenges in terms of "dosages."
"Young learners—all of us—need an appropriate mix of challenges," she says. "It's never just one thing."