Think back you when you were a high school senior.
Do you recall feeling like your 12 years of education leading to graduation prepared you and helped you discover your interest and passions, or was it just something you had to complete before you could go to college or out into the workforce?
From my perspective, I am academically prepared for college, and I have discovered my passion for emergency medicine. While Harwood has a Flexible Pathways program to help students pursue interests outside of the traditional classroom, in my case I pursued my interests through my own initiative. My years in Scouting up through the rank of Eagle Scout enabled me to explore many different skills and potential professional fields. This sparked my interest in first aid, and as a sophomore I joined the Mad River Valley Ambulance Service to continue learning about my interest and to help people in my community. This experience has led me to my decision to go to college and major in emergency management and simultaneously become a paramedic, or I will major in biology and complete all of my pre-med requirements.
All of my formal education has been in this school district. I attended Spring Hill in preschool, went to Waitsfield Elementary, and now am a senior at Harwood. The opportunity for school redesign within the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) has made me think about my experience going from preschool up through high school. There are many reasons school redesign and potentially consolidation is important. Some of these reasons might include saving money, using our staff and facilities more efficiently, and the primary reason, which should be to get every student the best education possible. This means ensuring that all students are well prepared to enter the workforce or access higher level education. This is a good goal and I believe that we are currently meeting it. However, we can do more. The system is going to be redesigned whether we like it or not, so I suggest we seize the opportunity to not just consolidate and save money but to change the structure to allow more opportunities for students to explore interests and passions.
Starting in sixth grade, I was able to begin exploring many different skills and potential professional fields through Boy Scouts because of the merit badge system. For example, first aid, cooking, citizenship in the community and woodworking were some of the badges I earned in sixth to ninth grade. These skills were taught by my Scout leaders or, where their expertise fell short, experts in the field. My vision for redesign of our school district is that all students would have a similar opportunity that I did, not necessarily by joining the Boy Scouts but instead through opportunities to explore possible career paths during the school day starting in middle school.
If all middle school students were brought together in the same building, there will be the critical mass of students necessary for this elective idea to work. There needs to be enough students with a diversity of interests to justify having many exploratory classes spanning many different topics. These classes should be hands-on and authentic, meaning that experts from the field could be brought in to help provide the content while teachers help facilitate the learning. These classes could be flexible in length to adjust for the level of interest of the students and could result in many more students finding interests to pursue in a more in-depth way in high school.
Once this middle school exploratory program is established, we will need to think differently about the high school as well. Harwood could offer a wider variety of authentic exploratory programs as well, both through new offerings, the Central Vermont Career Center and other Flexible Pathways including job shadows, independent studies and internships.
So, as we think about redesigning our school district, as an outgoing senior on my way to college, I want to urge everyone in our community to be open-minded to change so that our school district grows into a place that students want to be and families want to move.
Caffry Randall lives in Waitsfield.