At the end of the 2012 school year, the NISCE leadership team took a field trip to witness a community event in Sanford, Maine. Parents, students, teachers, administrators and community supporters had gathered to celebrate the end of the first year of a three-year effort designed to reshape their entire school system.
This effort had been galvanized by the award of a competitive $3.75 million grant from the Nellie Mae Foundation. Sanford’s Student-Centered Proficiency Based Learning approach (SCPBL) has the goal of creating improved learning via innovative programming geared to each individual learner. By involving a variety of groups within the community, Sanford has acknowledged that effective learning requires a broader context than schools operating in isolation. Safe and Healthy Sanford Coalition, Our Schools Our Future, and Support Our Schools were all part of their high-energy celebration.
“It’s about kids and building futures, and connecting each student to learning within a broadened sense of community,” said Principal Jedediah Petsinger. Individual learning needs are recognized at all school levels, and students move forward as they meet targeted outcomes. This significant shift is designed to allow students to progress through their studies at a pace that works for them. The high school, for example, is already focused on pairing kids with community members to allow students to have authentic learning experiences in areas of interest—outside of the classroom.
Changing Perspectives on Learning
Sanford believes that multi-pronged efforts to build a student-centered system will change their students’ perspective on what it means to learn. A simple poster captured how they hope students will experience the approach as they move from a feeling that “I must only learn in certain ways and only between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., 5 days a week until I am 18” to a feeling that “I will learn in different, multiple ways, anytime, anywhere, inside and outside of school until I can demonstrate that I’ve learned it”.
We came away from this visit inspired by the hard work being undertaken by the community of Sanford and feel confident that their students will find themselves at the center of a remarkable educational journey.