From The Atlantic
Published April 12, 2015
By Emily Richmond
It’s time for the morning meeting at Pittsfield Elementary School, and several kindergartners jostle for a spot on the carpet next to 16-year-old Anitrea Provencher, who is helping out in their classroom this semester.
As the students settle into a circle, their teacher, Lenore Coombs, starts off the day’s discussion with a question: What’s something you’ve never done before that you would like to try? That’s something Provencher—a sophomore at the neighboring Pittsfield Middle High School—is actively trying to answer for herself as part of a program that awards students academic course credit for engaging in learning experiences outside of the traditional classroom setting. “I’m figuring out where I do fit and where I don’t fit,” said Provencher, who hopes to follow up the kindergarten internship with one in marine biology. “I haven’t really liked school for a long time. This is better for me than regular high school.”
Amid the growing push to reinvent the nation’s public high schools, initiatives that connect students more directly to their individual interests—and tap into their innate motivations—are gaining popularity. New Hampshire is one of a handful of states at the forefront of efforts to promote flexibility in how students learn and how that knowledge is measured. While initiatives like these are relatively small in scale, educators and policymakers say they provide important testing grounds for innovations in school improvement.
In New Hampshire, what are known as “extended learning opportunities” can take the form of workplace internships, volunteer work, individualized study, or one-on-one instruction.Students earn credit in English-language arts provided their plan meets academic standards as outlined by the New Hampshire Department of Education. The learning opportunities must also be aligned to the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states, including New Hampshire.
Pittsfield is located about 40 minutes north of Manchester. Its demographics—mostly white and with modest household incomes—are not unlike those in many of the state’s other small towns. But Pittsfield is benefitting from a massive investment in its education system, spurred by a combination of private grants (primarily from the Massachusetts-based Nellie Mae Education Foundation) and a federal “Investing In Innovation” grant awarded to a network of 13 New England schools.