LEWISTON — Saying high school isn’t doing a good enough of a job preparing students for life, Lewiston High School’s diploma requirements will slowly change, Principal Gus LeBlanc told the School Committee Monday night.
“The traditional classroom assessment doesn’t prepare kids for the real world,” LeBlanc said. “We want to look at students not only being able to tell us what they know, but being able to demonstrate skills they have learned, what they can do, and how they can apply it to new situations.”
Applying learning to new situations is the real value, LeBlanc said. “Because the world really is changing so darned fast,” he said. “If we prepare kids tomorrow, a lot of what we prepare them for is antiquated next year.”
Eventually, a Lewiston High diploma will shift from students earning a certain number of credits to also demonstrating they know what they’ll need in the working world, LeBlanc said.
Students will still have to take and pass core subjects — English, history, math and science. But they’ll also have to demonstrate they’ve mastered five academic expectations: That they can effectively communicate verbally and in writing, use technology, problem solve and search out information.
Also, citizenship and the community will become a bigger part of high school student’s world through community-based learning. That could take form in different ways, from internships to service learning to community projects and pre-apprenticeships.
Service learning, which Bates College does with its students, would be a hands-on approach combining learning with students helping the community, Assistant Principal Paul Amnott said.
“You master subject material while fostering civil responsibility,” Amnott said. One example could be a foreign language student creating English vocabulary books for young English Language Learner students. That would allow the student to learn more about the Somali language and culture and help the community, Amnott said.
Additionally, students would have to take a senior seminar which will teach about real-life living, including proper business dress and behavior, getting a loan, signing a lease and applying for credit. Students will also have to create a portfolio, a DVD, showing what they know, LeBlanc said.
In the portfolio students would students document the courses they’ve taken, their plans after graduation whether it’s college, work or the military. It would also include students demonstration how they’ve met the five academic expectations for student learning, Amnott said.
There is no hard time frame when all of the above will happen, LeBlanc said. It will be gradual, and said he would return to the school board with pieces of changes for approval. “Nothing we’re proposing will change graduation requirements next year. We need to do it gradually,” he said. He also pledged that graduation changes will make it clear to the community, and to colleges, what it is students have mastered.
Committee members had questions, but were delighted about the coming changes. Members Ronella Paradis, Larry Poulin, and Jim Handy used words like enthused and excited. “I ‘d like to see this really get done,” Paradis said.
Meanwhile, report cards this year have begun to change to incorporate the coming graduation requirements.
Report cards now offer the familiar subjects and grades, and also report how students are meeting civic and academic expectations.
The expectations — that students communicate well orally and in writing, use technology effectively, recognize a problem and think critically to solve it, and read and interpret information to solve problems — are now not requirements, but information for parents. Eventually they will become requirements, LeBlanc said.
Employers “are telling us, ‘We need kids who can solve problems, who can communicate effectively, who can that have the ability to go out and seek information to do their job better,” LeBlanc said. “Those are the kinds of skills we’re trying to build.”