LEE — A locally driven initiative is redefining success as a high school graduate in Berkshire County while simultaneously preparing students to thrive in a rapidly changing and complex world.
The collaborative project, Berkshire Portrait of a Graduate, is being sponsored by the Berkshire County Educational Task Force through a grant from the BARR Foundation, a Boston-based nonprofit organization.
Data from former and current students from five Berkshire County schools — including Lee Middle and High School (LMHS) — will be gathered as part of the cross-district collaboration study. Other county schools included in the grant are Drury High School in North Adams, Pittsfield High School and Taconic High School in Pittsfield, and the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School in Adams.
Jake Eberwein, a member of the Berkshire County Educational Task Force (BCTEF), is the lead project facilitator for the initiative.
The rollout of the initiative was heard by the Lee School Committee at its Tuesday, April 14 meeting held via Zoom video conference software. Jane McEvoy, a core facilitator of the project representing Lee Public Schools, outlined how the countywide efforts will be made over the next year to identify the common strengths and hardships of its students and learning environment.
“The questions that we are seeking to answer is what skills, knowledge and dispositions does a Berkshire graduate need in order to thrive in a changing world?” McEvoy said.
Among the skills and competencies to be promoted through the initiative are problem-solving, collaboration and strengthening communication skills, she said.
McEvoy noted that specific needs of the individual school districts will be measured through survey data, which has yet to be collected. She listed some other possible abilities that students could boost through the collaborative program like ethical decision making, media literacy and community mindedness.
Preliminary work executed by project facilitators has included the exploration of site visits to select high schools in the country that could bring inspiration to the Berkshire initiative, said McEvoy. But in light of the current global pandemic, physical site visits have been temporarily replaced with virtual site visits, she said.
“We have been researching a lot of innovative schools,” McEvoy said, citing a recent visit to the San Diego-based High Tech High School. “The reason why we’re looking at those schools is because they are offering different ways to address competency.”
Before schools in the commonwealth were closed due to the threat of the spread of coronavirus, in-person focus groups were to be formed to collect data from former and current students of LMHS.
Now, an electronic survey will be made available to alumni of LMHS within the next week, said McEvoy. A survey for current students, who are engaged in their district-run remote learning plan, will be made available online as well, she said.
“Since we’re in our period of virtual learning, we have them all electronically,” McEvoy said. “Let’s make them do a survey.”
Data from the initiative’s study was set to be revealed to a larger group of stakeholders during a three-day summer conference, said McEvoy. But in light of the global pandemic, other arrangements may be made, she added.
Maria Antil, a Spanish teacher at LMHS and a faculty design team member for the initiative, spoke to some of the innovative techniques that other schools in the country were attempting within their own districts, including a student self-evaluation process for soon-to-be graduates.
Antil singled out Brooklyn Free School in New York City and New Milford High School in New Jersey for their distinctive efforts to better address their own educational needs.
“In Brooklyn Free School they have a democratic system, so they are incorporating student voice along with the faculty in their practices, which is really giving them a sense of ownership in what they are doing on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “In New Milford High School, they had a student-driven library that became a media center. Then they turned it into a maker’s space, so the focus there is moving towards innovation, experimentation and creativity.”
Antil said that implementing some educational techniques from other schools would invite a more individualized experience for future students of the Berkshires.
“It’s making the learning more meaningful, but it’s also empowering the student to make a greater impact, in not only their own world, but in the community at large and then in the bigger world,” Antil said.
At the conclusion of the 12-month program, which was funded and launched last December, a recommendation of a county-wide plan will be presented, said McEvoy. School-focused recommendations are also something in the project’s pipeline, she added.
Andrea Wadsworth, chairperson of the Lee School Committee, gave praise to all those involved with the local and countywide initiative.
“The sheer volume of what you are all covering is outstanding,” Wadsworth said. “We look forward to participating and seeing the results of this. The BARR Foundation picked a great group to do this study.”
The initiative is actively looking for high school graduates of the Berkshires within the past five years. The survey is available online at surveymonkey.com/r/RecentHS-Grad-Survey