FARMINGTON — Teaching that blends traditional academics with career and technical education is in full swing at Mt. Blue High School and Foster Technology Center, garnering the sister schools recognition for their innovations.

The schools are among four selected to represent Maine this week at the New England Secondary School Consortium in New Hampshire. The consortium in collaboration with the departments of education for Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont is a regional educational partnership committed to high school innovation.

Also presenting at the conference will be teams from Gray-New Gloucester High School in Gray and Casco Bay High School in Portland.

Mt. Blue/Foster Tech, currently housed in two separate buildings on the same campus, will become one integrated “learning campus” when a $64 million expansion and renovation is completed. It will be the first school in Maine designed specifically to integrate career/technical and academic programs for high school, community college, and adult education students.

At the conference, Mt. Blue Principal Monique Poulin, Foster Technology Center Director Glenn Kapiloff, social studies teacher Sam Dunbar and graphic arts instructor Charles Fontaine will present a talk on, “When Two Schools Collide: Integrating Traditional Academics and CTE (career/technical education).”

“In education, we tend to make ourselves isolated ‘silos’ and we want to change that,” Kapiloff said Wednesday. “All of a sudden, it takes learning up a level and we are seeing students from very diverse backgrounds gaining an appreciation of what each other has to offer.”

“The whole point of integration is a blend of programs that start with individual collaborations,” he said. “This is a real shift from what we have been doing and we wanted to get it started before the new school opened.”

The expectation is that teachers will create opportunities to partner up and develop collaborative units outside their disciplines, he said.

The new school design, with academic classrooms alongside career and technical labs and shops, will break down the outdated stigma that has long existed between academics and vocational centers, he said.

“This is a tremendous undertaking to do while renovations are going on and at the same time as we are managing budgets, dealing with ongoing construction and having students in off-site classrooms. But we wanted to start phasing it in and we are seeing some great success,” he said.

One innovation is a new freshmen humanities class that combines social studies with English. It is taught by Dunbar and English teacher Dan Ryder.

Both courses have much in common, they said: communication, reading, literacy, comprehension and an interest in the world.

In a recent project, the revolts in the Mideast were used as a study unit where students took on a role of someone involved in the conflict. They had to study the history of the uprisings, write blogs and journals and discuss their position in class.

Another project had them read John Steinbeck’s 1937 classic, “Of Mice and Men,” that takes place during the Depression and the Dust Bowl. Students joined a science class studying weather and discussed the book from an historical perspective.

“Once the kids understood the connection between social studies and English, they really got it,” Dunbar said. “They were able to think about the topic more deeply and understand how important it was to the people at that time.”

Students also collaborated with a commercial arts class taught by Charles Fontaine. Together, they brainstormed, designed and printed artwork on T-shirts that had themes aimed at raising school awareness on a variety of issues.

Kapiloff pointed to another example of blended learning that had a freshman biology class learn about tree identification from junior and senior forestry students who worked hard to prepare a lesson plan and teach the class in the field.

Foster Tech offers 20 programs, including the state’s first high school course in alternative energy. Others are composites, biotechnology, agriculture technology, commercial arts, heating and plumbing, building construction, business education and digital media.

Sending schools are Mt. Blue, Mt. Abram, Jay, Livermore Falls and Rangeley.

Gray–New Gloucester High School has been widely recognized for its use of new learning practices and literacy strategies, and has been chosen as a pilot site for a national initiative that focuses on ways schools can become innovative, student-centered learning environments, according to Principal Paul Penna.

“While our school is still in the early stages of its work, we are already seeing strong indicators of success,” he said.

“Sometimes the best advice doesn’t come from high-paid consultants — it comes from the people who are putting innovative ideas to work in their classrooms and their schools,” Stephen L. Bowen, commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, said in a news release.

“These remarkable high schools are setting an example for all of New England,” said David Ruff, executive director of the Great Schools Partnership, the New England Secondary School Consortium’s coordinating organization.

“The programs they’re creating and pioneering reflect what we know works for today’s students,” Ruff said. “And their unwavering commitment to their students, teachers and larger community is nothing short of inspiring.”

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