November is Take Your Legislator to School Month in Virginia. Warhill High School, in Williamsburg, VA invited local government officials to school on November 4, 2016 to showcase the Pathways Program. The auditorium was packed with students, teachers, local business representatives, city officials, WJCC school board members, the superintendent, state legislators, and even U.S. Congressman Wittman. The main purpose of the day was to unveil student work completed by the Humanities by Design students in their projects as part of the national campaign Letters to the Next President.

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Principal Jeff Carroll outlined the development of the Pathways Program as one of the five innovation grants awarded by the Virginia Department of Education last year. The purpose of this program is to engage and prepare students for the 21st century by incorporating project based learning, design thinking, and blended learning. Dr. Carroll pointed out that in order to make school “personal, meaningful, and relevant”, Pathways focuses on mastery of content rather than seat time, learning opposed to rote memorization, and personalization to engage students in careers they want to pursue.

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Greg King and Jackie Chisam, the instructors of Humanities by Design, pointed to the timeliness of the Letters to the Next President project with the presidential election just days away. When they began in September , there were just 500 videos uploaded to the site. Now there are over 5000 videos submitted by students from across the nation. Greg King stated that students were given the autonomy to pursue issues they cared about to voice their concerns to our publicly elected officials because, even though they cannot vote, they are still greatly impacted by the decisions made in the political arena. Student groups then presented on issues such as the environment, safety, and terrorism. It was amazing to see 14-year-old students take center stage to speak to government officials about substantive issues that concern them as citizens. They were poised and prepared. The videos themselves showed a great deal of research, consideration of multiple viewpoints, and an understanding of persuasion.

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Afterward, the Pathways English and Math students sat on a panel to discuss the advantages of blended learning. Students stated that they primarily enjoy being able to work at their own pace and they can get their course requirements out of the way more quickly so that they can focus more in pathways-presentation-2depth on their respective career interests later on in high school. Brier Anderson, the Pathways English instructor, stated that she loves that kids aren’t being held back because blended learning allows her to push the kids who need to be pushed and help the ones who need more support. She also stated that blended learning provides more revision opportunities so students are working harder than they ever did before in order to master the content.

I am impressed by the evidence of engagement that I witnessed today. These teachers and students took a leap of faith together and it seems to be paying off!

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Katalin Wargo is a doctoral student in the Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership: Curriculum and Educational Technology program at William and Mary. She holds a Masters in Education from the University of Washington and taught high school English for a decade before deciding to venture into academia. Her latest position was as the English department chair at Warhill High School in Williamsburg, where she worked as part of the innovation team to design the Pathways Program.

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