The bell rings. Student’s of H.J. Cody High School exit their first class of the day. Instead of heading to their next assigned class – students must now make a choice.
For the next 45 minutes students must ask themselves what subject they feel they need extra help with. Students must take charge of their own learning and decide for themselves how they will spend this block of daily ‘personalized learning time’. Administration asks students to use a computer or smart phone in the morning before school to sign up for which teacher they feel will best assist them in that block of time and are expected to be accountable for their own choices.
This new standard block of self motivated learning time became an integral part of Sylvan Lake high school students’ lives this past fall as part of Alberta Education’s ‘Moving Forward with High School Redesign’ initiative. Schools had to apply to the program explaining why they felt their high school was ready to move forward said Elwood.
The program stemmed from a pilot project launched in a number of schools throughout the province over five years ago, called the ‘High School FlexibilityEnhancement Pilot Project’.
Principal of H.J. Cody, Dave Elwood explained Redesign is about shifting the mindsets of students. Opening up a slot in a student’s timetable provides an opportunity for flexible learning – instead of being told where to go when the bells rings, they are encouraged to spend the time in a subject they are struggling in or feel they could use more time in.
“If you remember back to a time you had to learn something – maybe you got it right away or maybe you could’ve used more time with your teacher,” said Elwood. “Personalized Learning Time allows students to spend the time where they need it most. Kids are seeing learning in a different way and it’s giving them the time they need to see the teachers they need to see without having to stay after school or take up both their’s and the teacher’s lunch breaks.”
Elwood added in addition to the time table change and addition of the personalized learning time, High School Redesign also includes a change in the ‘culture of the school’.
He explained before Redesign students so often students felt they never had a say in their school. Redesign poses the idea students need to have a voice and feel engaged in their school. This sets high expectations for students and works to build a culture within the school that involves them in the decision making process and offers open communication between educators, administration and students.
Elwood explained a school’s positive culture allows students to feel safe and connected while allowing them to feel as though the school is a place where they can learn freely and contribute to the world.
“High School Redesign balances students taking responsibility for their learning and asks them to be accountable to where they signed up to go that day and commit to it,” said Elwood. “This not only prepares them for more success in high school but also later in life because they will carry those skills into postsecondary education and future employment.”
Superintendent of Chinook’s Edge School Division, Kurt Sacher said they are very pleased with the work administration and staff at H.J. Cody have undertook.
“They’ve worked so hard to be able to set their students up for success,” said Sacher on High School Redesign at H.J.
Sacher explained the vast majority of the high school’s in Chinook’s Edge are now involved in the initiative and he is happy with the results he is seeing –adding a major proponent of the initiative is increasing high school completion rates.
“It really takes a lot of initiative from the administration to get a program like this off the ground and running as well as H.J.’s is,” said Sacher. “We’re very confident in the direction they are going to meet the needs of all of their current and future students.”