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Funding for extra learning goes to 7 districts

In Revere and Chelsea, student-centered learning — which utilizes previous experiences, strengths, and interests — is taking center stage, thanks in part to support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

The foundation has awarded the districts — and five other urban New England school systems — a total of $3.15 million in grants through its New Approaches in Urban Districts initiative.

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“For the past five years, we have been working on a redesign of Chelsea High School,” said Superintendent Mary M. Bourque. “This grant will allow us to continue this work and go deeper, building the culture and leadership at every level to improve teaching and learning practices.”

Chelsea, where more than 80 percent of students do not speak English as their first language and nearly 89 percent are considered low-income, will be creating a new assessment system designed to evaluate individual student growth and development.

“We are really, really happy that Nellie Mae has recognized us as a district that is closing the achievement gap,” added Bourque, noting that Chelsea recently became the first school district in New England to be named a College Board Advanced Placement District of the Year for increasing access to AP courses while simultaneously improving performance on AP exams. “We are thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with Nellie Mae.”

Each district will get a 20-month grant of $450,000 to support systemic remodeling efforts that will help low-income school systems build capacity to boost student achievement with student-centered learning strategies.

Student-centered learning, as defined by the foundation, extends beyond the traditional school calendar and classroom walls, requiring students to take shared responsibility for learning in a variety of settings, including real-world situations and projects where teachers act as coach and guide. Educators believe the approach will better equip students with the critical thinking, problem solving, and communications skills required for success beyond high school.

In Revere, the high school is embracing a technology-driven teaching strategy known as “flipped learning,” turning on its head the traditional model of classroom lecture followed by at-home exercises. Under the new teaching method, class time is for hands-on practice; the lecture is saved for homework, with students watching short video clips of their teachers explaining a concept.

In a traditional classroom, a history lesson on George Washington would typically involve a lecture by the teacher with students taking notes, said Superintendent Paul S. Dakin. In a flipped learning class, the students might be asked to use their mobile devices to do online research and find out who George Washington was and then figure out a way to present that information to their peers, he noted.

“Just giving kids a mobile device isn’t going to transform our classrooms,” said Dakin. “Teachers are going to have to learn how to put this method into practice. When I was a math teacher, if I didn’t fill the chalkboard four or five times, I didn’t feel like I was getting the job done, so I know that this new approach is going to be a big change for our teachers.

“This grant will help us get our teachers the training they need to get the kids to dig deeper, to become active learners.”

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote­@gmail.com.

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