Several years ago, Meriden Public Schools faced troubling academic results, low graduation rates, and high suspensions, expulsions, and arrests. Most students come from minority backgrounds and more than 70% qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The district needed a new philosophy—a new approach. We had to make sure that students were at the center of all our decisions.
Transformation to student-centered learning environments required a shift in culture, curriculum and instruction. The district knew that achieving equity for all students required additional support, as well as rigorous content. The goal was to better prepare all graduates to be college, career, and civic ready. The district implemented student-centered learning, opened access to Advanced Placement and all higher level courses, implemented a one-to-one program, expanded learning time schools, and offered numerous enrichment and credit earning opportunities.
Our Student-Centered Learning Approach
Leveraging our collaborative relationship with our teachers union and partnering with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation provided the Meriden Public Schools with the impetus to begin our change process. Professional learning for our staff, coupled with research on the importance of challenging all students, were essential components in our student-centered approach. By utilizing grant funding to add support staff from our current teacher ranks, teachers would not only hear about student-centered learning, they would see it in action, and receive support as they began to create flexible learning environments.
Creating student-centered learning environments started for us by increasing academic rigor for all students and developing a growth mindset with students and staff. We gave students greater choice and voice in their learning and supported staff as they personalized and blended their instruction. Collapsing levels, eliminating course prerequisites, adopting no zero grading policies, and assuring that curriculum was implemented with fidelity were our first steps on the student-centered learning journey. In addition, learning environments were no longer simply rows of desks, but flexible learning spaces that support personalization of learning.
Our Digital Transformation
With no district-issued device, and facing restrictive technology use policies, we knew that we had to garner buy-in from all stakeholders if we were going to successfully launch a digital transformation. Bring Your Own Device guidelines and one-to-one district-issued devices were essential in our digital transformation. Devices alone are useless if there is not digital content in place to personalize and differentiate the learning for students, so we partnered with digital content providers to support our students. These partnerships provide greater opportunities for equity for all students and professional learning for our teachers. Through the use of digital content, our students are now being challenged at their own academic level and they are accessing learning opportunities anytime, anywhere.
Our Expanded Learning Opportunities
Today's students need to learn more and teachers and educators often feel there is not enough time in the day to meet these growing demands. To address this challenge, Meriden Public Schools offers: three expanded-day elementary schools, where all students attend 100 minutes more per day—equaling over 40 additional schools days; STEM academies and enrichment courses on Saturday mornings at our local community college; summer online learning credit opportunities; personalized learning experiences that are designed by students themselves, and teacher-facilitated summer experiences to ensure that all elementary students are reading on grade level.
The summer program is celebrated with a Scholastic read-aloud where students receive a book bag filled with Scholastic books that they will see in their classrooms in the fall. In the Meriden Public Schools, learning is encouraged outside the walls of our classrooms. Our Family School Liaison Team supports our parent engagement efforts by sponsoring our Celebration of Readers each spring. Family literacy nights and One School, One Book foster the love of reading, and encourage parent/guardian involvement.
Along with growing academic success and greater student and staff satisfaction, suspensions have decreased by 78%, expulsions by 91% and arrests by 92% since 2011. The Meriden Public Schools is creating schools where students succeed. The district has achieved some of its highest scores in history on the Smarter Balance Assessments and PSATs. These positive trends validate our efforts and we are excited about tomorrow's possibilities.