Multiple Pathways for All Students

By Lee Anna Stirling

Maine has been focusing on the importance of postsecondary training. As the Maine Department of Education’s Pre-K-16 Task Force noted: “To guarantee a more promising future for Maine youth and to ensure economic vitality in our state, we need to dramatically increase the number of citizens with either an associate or a baccalaureate degree.”

Maine’s Skowhegan Area High School (SAHS) and Somerset Career and Technical Center (SCTC) have partnered in a Multiple Pathways initiative (funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation) to increase students’ high school completion rate and to increase enrollment in postsecondary education of their graduates. Integral to these goals is ensuring that all students graduate with skills they need to succeed in postsecondary education, careers and civic engagement. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these skills include literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, communications, collaboration and creativity.

Though a major goal for the project is to increase the high school graduation rate, the Multiple Pathways vision applies to students from a cross-section of achievement levels. Through engaging, in-depth learning, the project seeks to advance all students’ attitudes and skills.

Implementing multiple pathways

Drawing from Multiple Pathways frameworks, in 2009, SAHS and SCTS began planning the campuswide initiative. SAHS is a regional high school serving six communities and led by a principal. SCTC is located on the SAHS campus but is a distinct school serving juniors and seniors from SAHS and four other high schools. It is led by a director.

A major part of this Multiple Pathways initiative is to move toward more cooperation between SCTC and SAHS. In this way, students’ perceptions of the relevance of their academic subjects could increase, through connections made to career/technical subjects. Also, pathways might be created for students to fulfill part or all of an academic class’s requirements through participation in a career/technical class, as long as required academic standards are achieved.

Some students attend SAHS classes, focused on academic objectives, as well as SCTC classes, focused on career and technical skills. If a high school teacher has a student who doesn’t understanding a math concept, for example, a carpentry instructor might be able to show the student how the math relates to carpentry or architecture.

Goals also include incorporating more learning activities that capture students’ interest, while maintaining academic rigor, ensuring students gain 21st Century Skills, and increasing connections with community, business and higher education partners.

The first step in this partnership was a Multiple Pathways workshop in summer 2009. Faculty from both schools identified possible Multiple Pathways projects. During the 2009-10 planning year, educators from SAHS and SCTC visited Searsport High School to see its program incorporating students’ interests and standards-based learning.

In June 2010, a Multiple Pathways Administrative Liaison was hired to help communicate about Multiple Pathways. Two summer workshops were held to discuss how to achieve a more integrated SCTC/SAHS campus. Faculty and staff created a draft campus mission statement that was edited later that summer at a third, smaller meeting of faculty and staff. This mission was later adopted by the faculty and staff in fall 2010.

In September, faculty who attended the summer workshops, related goals and activities planned at the workshops, to the rest of the faculty, and launched a monthly Multiple Pathways newsletter emphasizing learning experiences faculty provide for students.

In October, faculty met to share their projects aligned with Multiple Pathways goals—both projects newly devised and projects in which they had been involved before the grant. A public relations company, Encompass, was contracted to help get the word out to the larger community about SCTC’s programs and the Multiple Pathways initiative. A Multiple Pathways Advisory Board—consisting of students, faculty, parent, district administrators, school board members, business and community leaders, and statewide education leaders—met to discuss the progress of the initiative. Follow-up meetings were planned to identify community resources with which Multiple Pathways learning activities can connect.

In December 2010, a new staff position, Extended Learning Opportunities Coordinator, was created to work towards increasing the availability of engaging, personalized learning experiences for students, for which high school credits can be granted.

Multiple pathways projects

The number and variety of Multiple Pathways projects at SAHS/SCTC continues to grow. The current projects include the following:

Senior Tech Math Math teacher Jodi Abbott designed a class that incorporates students’ career interests into the curriculum. The second semester of the course will count as the equivalent of a Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) math class; if students pass it, they will receive three college math credits tuition-free.

Sustainable Gardening Students, faculty and staff visited Unity College’s student-run organic garden where they interacted with Unity College students, faculty and staff, asking questions and discussing garden plans. A garden site on our campus has been prepared for planting, which is scheduled for spring 2011. Students, faculty, administration, higher education staff, local farmers, community members, district staff and Town of Skowhegan staff are involved in the planning.

Technical Center Tours Tenth-graders at SAHS take tours of the SCTC programs and facilities.

Career Exploration Day A career exploration day, which in the past ninth-grade SCTC girls attended, is expanding to all SAHS ninth-grade girls. The careers presented will expand to include professional careers, in addition to the traditional trades that were presented in past years.

Inter-School Newspaper The high school student newspaper has expanded to an SAHS/SCTC campuswide student publication.

Robotics An SAHS physics teacher plans to involve his class in a robotics project that has been implemented solely by an SCTC Information Systems Technology instructor in the past.

Civil Rights Team The SAHS Civil Rights Team, which previously had only SAHS faculty assistance, now includes a SCTC staff member.

Identification of Curriculum Power Standards Each SAHS department has identified several curriculum standards that are essential to their subject area. In addition to other uses in students’ learning, this can facilitate collaborations between SAHS and SCTC classes.

WorkReady Several SAHS and SCTC faculty members attended a presentation about WorkReady, a program sponsored by the Maine Department of Education and the Somerset Workforce Development Team, which can be integrated into other curriculum to give students certification as possessing global skills employers seek.

Supporting the goals

Progress in the Multiple Pathways initiative depends on the organizational climate within SAHS and SCTC. Recent initiatives within Skowhegan Area High School support Multiple Pathways goals.

Professional Learning Groups Interdisciplinary professional learning groups are at SAHS. These groups, which give SAHS faculty opportunities to solve inevitable curriculum and classroom management challenges, provide forums to discuss best strategies for planning, implementing and assessing 21st Century skills and academic content.

Student Advisories Planning at SAHS has begun for student advisories. These groups will help foster relationships and a feeling of belonging to help students achieve to their capacity, to feel engaged with their school experience, and to complete it.

Extended Learning Time Advisories might take place during an Extended Learning time—if not in 2011-12, perhaps in the following year. This time might be used for tutoring, promoting the Multiple Pathways goals of rigorous learning, literacy and numeracy. Extended Learning time also supports opportunities for enrichment and other personalized learning opportunities.

Faculty Leadership Student Advisories planning is led by faculty members. A new Principal’s Advisory group and a continuing Department Head group also provide faculty leadership. Faculty members led some of the Multiple Pathways planning groups at summer workshops and presented to the rest of the faculty. An organization infrastructure of faculty with constructive leadership abilities, which are developed with support and through experience, is essential for implementation and sustainability of major initiatives, including Multiple Pathways.

Rachel’s Challenge In response to a statewide directive for anti-bullying programs, the campus began participating in a program called Rachel’s Challenge in January. The increased climate of caring, safety for all, and community that the program could help develop would support Multiple Pathways goals. Since absenteeism and dropping-out are high among students who are marginalized and made to feel unsafe, improving school climate could bolster the number of students finishing school and being well prepared for next steps.

Next steps

Work has begun to implement a framework that helps students complete high school and be willing and able to participate in postsecondary education and citizenship. There are many areas that need to be addressed.

One such area is SCTC/SAHS collaboration. While there are several examples of high school and technical center teachers working together, they are still the exception rather than the norm. Courses at SCTC center on project learning, and SCTC instructors have in-depth expertise in implementing it. Deeper collaborations between the two wings of campus could bring SAHS faculty who desire to begin or deepen project learning, additional project learning strategies. Increased collaborations and teaming between SCTC and SAHS faculty could create pathways for students to fulfill part or all of an academic class’s requirements through participation in a career and technical class. Collaborations with high school faculty would allow SCTC faculty to be aware of SAHS academic objectives so they can reinforce them.

More collaboration would allow faculty in the two wings to discuss challenges and remedies for students they share. Collegial conversations would allow discussion of academic strengths and deficits that become apparent in the process of students’ project learning in SCTC classes and 21st Century skills strengths and deficits that have been observed in either SAHS or SCTC classes. A curriculum alliance model that integrates academic and career curriculum, was presented as a goal to faculty who attended Multiple Pathways summer workshops. An adaptation of this model might be a promising way to further the goals of the initiative.

Students’ personalized/extended learning opportunities will be the special focus in 2011-12. Further community resources will be identified and made available not only for personalized learning but as a resource for classroom teachers.

Tapping into faculty wisdom and know-how is essential, and continued efforts and supports for this should continue. In addition, SCTC and SAHS educators have attended conferences, workshops, and meetings in Maine and New Hampshire, and visited programs to learn about best practices. This professional development needs to continue.

Multiple Pathways is an encompassing approach that potentially affects, and is affected by, everything that the high school and center do. As such, further development of the initiative requires further thinking of how best to meet the needs of all learners. Through the identification of school and community resources, connections to students’ interests, and the commitment to the importance of this team approach, Multiple Pathways at Somerset Career and Technical Center and Skowhegan Area High School could have a substantial effect on the lives of students.

Lee Anna Stirling teaches graduate education leadership and curriculum courses and was a teacher, administrator and instructional coach in schools. In 2010-11 she served as Multiple Pathways Administrative Liaison at Skowhegan Area High School/Somerset Career and Technical Center.

Note: A version of this article, entitled Multiple Pathways: Post-Secondary Education, Career and Citizenship Readiness for All Students, appeared in the Journal of Maine Education, Meeting the Needs of All Learners (2011), 8. Maine ASCD.


Multiple Pathways Frameworks

In their book, Beyond Tracking: Multiple Pathways to College, Career, and Civic Participation (Harvard University Press, 2008), Jeannie Oakes of the Ford Foundation, and Marisa Saunders of the University of California, Los Angeles, emphasize that schools should not track students as “vocational” or “academic.” They claim that rigorous learning refers to rigor in higher-order thinking skills, application of knowledge, and depth of academic knowledge. They caution against using exit exams that exclude adequate evaluation of these abilities. Academics and preparation for careers would both be within theme-based programs. Themes could be, for example, health, law, information technology, environment, social justice or performing arts. Within each theme-based program there is a college preparatory academic core, a career/technical core including academic and real world standards and field-based learning opportunities.

In the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, suggested that by the end of 10th grade students should take demanding tests of core subjects and the skills workplaces require of employees such as creativity, leadership and team work. If students pass the exams, they can go to community college at that point (one pathway), or continue in high school with rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate (a second pathway).

Robert Schwartz, academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, offers that states should design exit assessments of reading, math and writing that include American Diploma Project (ADP) benchmarks, which are based on entry-level expectations of higher education and high-level employers. The test might include extensive writing, multi-step math solutions, assessment of clear reasoning and problem-solving, creativity, leadership and team skills.

Finally, the National Youth Employment Coalition’s American Youth Policy Forum’s multiple-pathways model includes alternative placements for students not succeeding in schools. Both alternative schools and sending schools would include, among other curricula: GED preparation, community college programs, vocational skills programs, and high-quality afterschool programs

—Lee Anna Stirling


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