Manson schools engaging community to transform student learning
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a three-part series that takes a look at changes the Manson School District has made to prepare students for life beyond high school.
The Manson School District is making remarkable strides in creating a compelling learning environment that plays to the strengths of students and faculty as well as engaging the business community. They’ve basically created a charter school within an existing school structure. It’s a model that other districts should pay attention to and learn from.
This revolution started with a conversation with the staff and community members a few years ago and that led to a focus on doing whatever was necessary to make sure students leaving the high school were ready for life, said Superintendent Matt Charlton.
They have shifted from the traditional industrial age approach of teaching — essentially dumping information into kids and teaching to the standardized tests — to a more flexible approach that encourages students to take ownership of their education. The education here is more customized and personalized, Charlton explained.
At the same time, they are engaging parents and local businesses in creative ways that is proving to be highly successful.
Here are a few of the ways they accomplished this goal in the high school:
- The district switched from quarters to trimesters and also reduced the number of classes from seven, 50-minute periods, to five, 70-minute periods. This created the ability to do project-based learning in some classes and allowed students greater scheduling flexibility. If they want to take three college courses, they can do that.
- To reinforce greater independence, they converted the library into a lounge called the HUB that gives the place the feel of a college environment.
- To make learning more relevant and customized, students take a subject they are interested in and propose an independent study project called directed studies. Working with a faculty advisory, the students do such things as create videos for the school, work with Microsoft engineers to explore coding, build drones, study veterinary medicine, analyze immigration laws and study rocket science. The sky’s the limit on these projects.
- They developed the most comprehensive internship program I have ever seen. Using grant funding, they hired Manson grad Addie Velasco to be the internship coordinator. Virtually every student at Manson High School has an internship with a local business. Velasco told me they have 90 businesses participating in this project. Freshmen work in local businesses for 15 hours up to seniors, who spend 30 hours doing meaningful work.
This is a well-thought-out approach to creating a learning environment that serves kids well and makes education more interesting and relevant. The days are over for the teacher as “sage on the stage,” and education needs to shift to these more personalized, customized approaches.
The internship program gives kids the practical experience to know what it’s like in the real world and helps them see what it takes to succeed outside of school.
The theme for the high school program is Manson Strong, which emphasizes the district’s commitment to creating an environment where kids are taking responsibility for their learning with effective support.
“These are the kinds of things I wanted for my own kids,” said Manson Secondary Principal Don Vanderholm. The students have more freedom to create their own experience and teachers do less traditional teaching and more coaching, he added.
Vanderholm and Charlton told me candidly that it’s not a perfect system and there are plenty of challenges. But, they said, that’s life.
Manson elementary and middle school are in the process of creating their own approaches to support this kind of engaged learning.
What I appreciate is that they have made the conscious choice to not worry about the standardized test scores and instead have designed their approach to serve kids. That’s courageous and laudable.