RISE works at CVU: Interest-based learning program successful, but school officials plan some adjustments

Staff Writer

Champlain Valley Union High School Principal Adam Bunting, Librarian Peter Langella and Personal Living Coordinator Carly Rivard gave a presentation on the RISE program at the Champlain Valley School District school board meeting Tuesday.

The three were clearly enthusiastic about how the first year of RISE (Reflective Interest-based Student Experiences) went at the end of last school year, although they did discuss areas that need improvement.

RISE is an intensive two-week learning experience at the end of the school year. Students have the choice of a structured experience (a teacher administers the curriculum), a guided experience (a student chooses a topic and helps design the curriculum with a teacher) or an independent experience (an adult helps a student shape their learning experience but it is completely student designed).

Bunting said he is passionate about personalization of education because it gives students “ownership” over their journey.

“To me ownership creates engagement and at the end of the day engagement creates proficiency,” he said.

To illustrate what happened in the last two weeks of the school year, they showed a video filmed during RISE with interviews with teachers and students and footage of some of the learning experiences. The video is not yet on the school’s website as it was received just prior to the meeting, but it will be uploaded soon.

RISE students participated in variety of learning experiences, including a class on women and Hindu mythology; a class called Bike Vermont where students not only biked but also studied trail maintenance and forest stewardship; French Cabaret, where students rehearsed and put on a cabaret at the end of the 10 days; and a course where students earned their Vermont Hunter Safety Certificate with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

Partnerships with outside experts

Langella said that some classes involved partnerships with outside experts and the program isn’t tied to traditional discipline credits like a math or social studies. However, he stressed that RISE  is still a CVU graduation credit, so the school needs certified educators for each class.

“All the RISE sessions, even the students who selected their own individual path, needed to be linked to either self-direction or responsible citizenship,” said Langella. “Some of them were linked to both,”

After the RISE sessions were completed, 85 percent of CVU teachers responded that they were able to link the RISE learning targets to graduation standards, said Langella.

Bunting taught one of the sessions.

“It was fantastic for me as a leader to get back into the classroom,” he said. “When you get back into it, you’re like ‘Oh, yeah, I can see why that’s annoying for teachers.’”

One of his students was a ninth grader who’d had a very difficult year, really struggled and missed a good bit of her classes.

“She was grouped with two seniors who’d had been very successful students and were going on to higher education. She dove into the literature and the peers, the seniors she was with, really took care of her and set this model of what it meant to be a student,” said Bunting. “At the end of the class, she really knew the material. I was impressed.”

Scheduling issues

Elyse Martin Smith, one of the student board representatives, said one issue was that the RISE schedule was difficult because it coincided with exams.

Bunting thought she had a good point. Although he didn’t know a solution for it, he said the schedule is an area the school needs to work on.

One of the things CVU plans to do is give students the chance to register earlier for RISE projects.

Langella said that they predict that more students will chose to do an independent project this year.

He said that some of the students who signed up for college classes were disappointed. From his conversations with students, he said they may have thought taking a college class at CVU or on their own would be easier.

“They may have found it wasn’t something that they were truly interested in,” he added.

Although students were asked for their top five choices of RISE projects to study and assured they’d get at least one, some students said that they didn’t get to study what they wanted. Langella said subsequent conversations revealed many of these students hadn’t really believed that they’d get to study what they wanted, so they’d just randomly clicked boxes on the registration form.

“So that was some good learning for them and some good learning for us, to remind them that when we say, ‘Please register for a class and make your choices,’ it’s a real thing,” said Langella.

This school year, two of the offerings are a trip to China and a trip to Florida to work on reef restoration. Some of the school board expressed concerns about students not being excluded because of not being able to afford these trips.

“I think I’m really confident in saying this: There has never been a student who’s expressed interest in a trip that we’ve ever denied,” Bunting said. “We’ve always found a way to support those students.”

He said that he thought “the bigger hurdle” is students “self-selecting themselves” as not able to go on a school trip.

“The financial piece is the least of my concerns in that area,” Bunting said. “We’ve got some cultural stuff we need to work on.”

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