By Claire Pomer, Harwood Union correspondent

On April 11 and 12, Harwood hosted a Vermont NGLC (Next Gen Learning Conference) Learning Excursion, where teams of New England educators and students interested in “re-imagining” public education experienced how Vermont schools are redefining learning. Harwood, Winooski High School, and Twinfield Union School were each highlighted for the ways that they’ve utilized Act 77 —also known as the Flexible Pathways Act — in the 10 years that it’s been implemented.





The Next Gen Learning Conference is a nonprofit organization of educators who believe that “educators… should lead the transformation to next gen learning.” They believe in student-centered learning that is personalized, relevant, accessible, and determined by each student. Vermont’s Flexible Pathways Act of 2013 (Act 77) implemented Personalized Learning, a process that helps students “assess their own talents and aspirations, plan a pathway toward their own purposes, work cooperatively with others in challenging tasks, maintain a record of explorations, and demonstrate their learning against clear standards in a wide variety of media, all with the close support of adult mentors and guides.” NGLC led a Learning Excursion to Vermont high schools because Act 77 matches their principles and other educators wanted to see how these principles were being implemented in high schools. 

“Education is constantly a work in progress,” principal Laurie Greenberg said during her opening presentation, where she welcomed visitors, outlined Act 77, and introduced the five sections that Harwood highlighted: Extended Learning Opportunities, Student Voice Opportunities, internships, clubs, and Extended Studies. Student representatives spoke for clubs, Extended Studies, and Student Voice Opportunities. 

ELOs, or Extended Learning Opportunities, are similar to free blocks. Through a PowerSchool plugin, students can book themselves to teachers to take or retake a test, to study, or to have one-on-one time with the teacher. Teachers can also “pre-book” students who missed class or who need extra support. ELOs can also be used for clubs, standardized testing, and relaxation. The goal of ELOs is to support students in their classes, but it also helps teachers organize and foster relationships with students. “The more work we put in on the front end, the more successful ELOs will be,” said Jess Deane, a science teacher. “It’s just like planning a good lesson.” 

Due to Harwood’s small staff-to-student ratio, it’s easy for students to get in contact with their teachers and administrators. Ellie Buckingham and Cashel Higgins spoke about how they organized the all-school dialogues about the recent bond, and Ellen Berrings, a work-based learning coordinator, spoke about when students went to the principal complaining about having too much homework over break and created Harwood’s current policy on homework over break. The students also spoke about their experience with Harkness dialogue, a discussion type that’s “meant to bring students to the center of the classroom” when they all share a common type of information, like a book that they’ve all read or, in the case of the bond dialogues, a bond proposal that everyone had gone over.




Harwood currently has around 30 interns. Internship coordinator Rachael Potts works closely with students, school counselors, and local connections to connect students with the right internship for them. Many internships are conducted off school property, but not all; some take place on weekends, some can be done from home, and some take place on school grounds. Interns aim to reach 60 hours per semester, but no official requirements exist. At the end of their internship, they create a final project to show what they achieved. During the internship, they reflect each week about how the experience made them feel, what they learned from it, and how they could connect it to what they’ve learned in school. 

“Clubs are made because students want the club,” said athletic director Ian Fraunfelder. If a student is interested in starting a new club, they go to him first and then schedule a meeting with the leadership group, which includes the principals. If the club is approved, it’s scheduled for an ELO, matched with a staff member to run it, and then led by students from that point forward. Not all clubs are run during ELO time; Flight Club and Dungeons and Dragons are both run after school, which allows for more time. Running a club is not a large burden on a teacher, since clubs are so student-oriented, although teachers who teach academically rigorous classes don’t usually tend to lead clubs. 

Extended Studies offers students a way to further their learning. Ninth and to 10th grade students volunteer to attend extra ELOs for three core subjects: English, social studies, and science. They can decide how many Extended Studies they want to participate in. The teachers from each department decide how they want to expand on what’s being taught in class. Phil Stetson of the history department and Susannah Cowden from the science department explained some of their projects. For ninth graders taking Global Studies, Stetson had them read “Men of Color, to Arms!” during their Vermont history unit to “push back on this idea of Vermont exceptionalism”— the idea that Vermont is exempt from racism. Tenth graders, during their unit on authoritarianism and political extremism, researched an extremist group and created a presentation about the group of their choice, exploring their tactics, goal, and whether they were positive or negative. Each department has about three projects per year.