Milton High School’s focus on innovation and technology earned it a visit from an alternative school executive this week who wants to increase dialogue with leaders in the field.
Devin Vodicka, chief impact officer with the Alt School, visited Milton to learn about the innovative practices going on inside, and outside, of the school. He said his job is to visit schools on the cutting edge around the country, learn from them and participate in a dialogue with educators and administrators on how to keep innovating in education.
“Vermont as a state has a reputation for some compelling innovations,” Vodicka said. “I’m here to see innovation and help to think about how we can connect these examples of success to accelerate progress more broadly.”
The Alt School is a technology-based charter school with a focus on innovation and personalized learning. It has four lab schools in San Francisco and New York City, as well as 25 partner schools around the country which use Alt School’s software and curriculums.
During his visit, Vodicka toured the high school and met students and educators putting innovation into practice. He met with students integrating internships into their school day, visited the fitness center where students were creating their own personalized fitness goals and observed classes with multiple teachers to meet the education needs of all students.
MHS co-principal Anne Blake was excited to have Vodicka visit and to introduce him to some of the progressive education practices going on in the school.
Blake explained the personalized learning that goes on at the school, giving students credit for athletics, co-curriculars, independent projects and other activities they are a part of to help expand their ideas of what education means. The focus of the school is on the learners themselves, she added.
“Kids are really committed here,” she said. “They work hard.”
Blake said the newest program to the Milton HS is Yellowjacket TV, which features digital and audio recording, movie-making and TV-producing, and is student-led.
“It really starts with the students saying what do they want to create, and then going about learning the skills to do that creation,” Blake said. “We come together as a school community to watch Yellowjacket TV, and it also has a vision of uplifting student voice.”
She also explained new clubs are constantly being started by students. Additionally, the administration works to offer new classes if there is a student need, like the most recently added AP Psychology classes.
Milton HS was one of the first in the Northeast to offer virtual high school as well, which offers students a chance to take their education into their own hands.
“We had a student who wanted to take on more in nuclear physics, which is something we’re probably never going to offer,” Blake said, explaining the student took those classes online through the virtual school. “That was a chance for them to push their learning.”
Ned Kirsch, superintendent of the Franklin West Supervisory Union and a prior MHS administrator who organized the visit, said it was inspiring to see MHS leaders allow students to be so flexible in their education.
The group also met with Kaziah Vaughan and Sierra Pepin, two MHS juniors working on internships during study halls and after school and integrating them into their learning.
Vaughan currently works at the ECHO Center in Burlington, teaching visitors about marine biology and issues surrounding Lake Champlain. She wants to pursue a medical profession, but is using her time at the internship to explore her options and work on other skills, like education.
Pepin has wanted to be an elementary school teacher since she was 8 years old, and is helping out with her previous third grade teacher during study hall. She’s getting classroom experience, helping give one-on-one time to students and learning more about the profession she wants to enter someday.
Both students are using their personal internship experiences to explore their potential career paths while meeting certain proficiencies they need to graduate high school, part of the personalized learning plans MHS offers.
Vodicka was excited about collaborating with Milton and learning new approaches to the personalized learning practices the high school has implemented.
“Teachers tend to be pretty isolated,” Vodicka said. “When we get a chance to connect across communities, that’s great.”