I spoke at a bill signing! / by Louisa Ulrich-Verderber

This week was quite a whirl wind. On Monday morning I was contacted by our principal and asked if I would speak to the Governor and assembled dignitaries at the bill signing ceremony to be held at my high school on Wednesday.  Among other things, the bill included a long-awaited education reform that made it mandatory that all high schools in Vermont allow students to make a “Personalized Learning Plan” (like mine!). In fact, the bill mandates that schools create one for every student, but at this time, I suspect that everyone understands we do not have the manpower or institutional framework to do that.

The reason I was asked to speak is complex. My understanding is that Governor Shumlin selected BFA (my high school) for the signing because our former Superintendent of Schools had pioneered a project called “Academy 21” that made personalized learning plans a key element of the curriculum. But by the time of the signing ceremony, the Superintendent had been fired for unprofessional conduct and the Academy 21 program was not flourishing. 

Our principal at that time – Denis Hill – was there at the inception of my idea for my own Personal Learning Plan, long before that term was fashionable. So I suspect that when the governor’s staff learned that they shouldn’t tout the successes of Academy 21, then Mr. Hill suggest me!

What I have done with my Beyond the Xtra Mile Project is to create an education pathway that is like mixing up the colors on the standard palate. It is self-directed by the student, allowing them to follow trains of thought that interest them, but still meets the standards that needed to become a well-rounded person. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I created, and initiated a template for this kind of thing LONG before anyone else had sorted out the details, at least in Vermont.

 I find that my learning path has flexibility at the heart of its value to students and teachers alike. The ridged system of education that we have been using for 200 years is fast becoming obsolete.  My portfolio here on my website demonstrates that this path encourages me to make connections and explore subject areas that might never have made my radar screen for years, or maybe not at all . I have the freedom to ask the questions and the time and resources to answer them fully, opening an infinite number of new doors of knowledge as I go. Many times the knowledge organically builds on itself, and other times it seems I’ve left one area completely and then I stumble upon a detail that circles back to something from months earlier. It’s so inspiring.

In any case, today I said as much to Governor Shumlin and thanked he and his staff for making this leap forward in education.