Author Archive | Livi Stanford

How’s personalized learning coming in Florida?

Florida’s “bottom-up” approach to personalized learning is moving from planning stages to real changes in the classroom, according to a new report by the reform advocacy group ExcelinEd.

The report follows up on last year’s look at three states that enacted policies to promote personalization. It noted Florida’s approach is somewhat unique, because it’s allowing different school districts, as well as a university lab school, to pick their own approaches to personalized learning and its close cousin, competency-based learning.

Competency-based learning gives students the opportunity to advance to higher levels of learning based on their mastery of the topic rather than the amount of time they spend in class.

A 2016 law created a competency-based learning pilot program for the Pinellas, Palm BeachSeminole County school districts, as well as the University of Florida’s P.K. Yonge Development Research School. It allows them to apply to the Florida Department of Education for waivers from state regulations that might stand in their way.  A fourth district, Lake County, has backed away from the initiative. Continue Reading →


Promise seen in competency-based initiatives at P.K. Yonge

K-1 Learning Community Student Cameron Indarawis takes part in Pizza by the Creek, a six-week project based on personalized learning. Credit: P.K. Yonge

The University of Florida’s K-12 laboratory school has seen promise in a new learning method where students learn at their own pace.

Competency-based learning gives students the opportunity to advance to higher levels of learning based on their mastery of the topic rather than the amount of time they spend in class.

P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School joins three districts in Florida that are test driving the concept.

A 2016 law created a pilot program for Pinellas, Palm Beach, Seminole County school districts, as well as P.K. Yonge, to experiment with competency-based learning, which dovetails with personalized learning. It allows them to apply to the Florida Department of Education for waivers from state regulations that might stand in their way.  A fourth district, Lake County, has backed away from the initiative.

Lynda Fender Hayes, director of P.K. Yonge, Christy Gabbard, program development and outreach specialist and communications director Julie Henderson answered several of our questions on the implementation of competency-based learning. We made some minor edits to their written responses for clarity and length. Continue Reading →


Heartache in Puerto Rico hits close to home for Ocala school

From left to right, Mario Vazquez, AVA tech, Nicole Rivera, Joselyn Figueroa, and Lori Silloway, staff at Ocala Preparatory Academy, all have family in Puerto Rico. Credit: Ocala Preparatory Academy

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, Joselyn Figueroa was beside herself.

A student aide at Ocala Preparatory Academy, a private school that serves 50 students in Marion County, Fla., Figueroa did not hear from her parents for five days.

She could only wait, listening to news reports, stunned that a historic Category 4, near-Category 5 hurricane wrought havoc on the island she called home for many years.

She described the phone call that she finally received, after days of waiting, as “beautiful.”

“I needed to hear their voice to tell me, they are OK,” she said.

Her mother and father were safe but shaken by the storm. They lost their home. They now struggle to find food, water and medicine. Figueroa’s mother had a kidney transplant and needs to get her monthly medication. They live in the small agricultural town of Yauco. It was founded in 1756 and dubbed “Coffee City.” It was once known as the global capital for the caffeinated crop. They don’t know how it will rebuild.

“It is so frustrating for me,” Figueroa said. “I hear my mom tell me, ‘Everything is destroyed around here.’”

She found support from the school where she works. It’s home to several members of Florida’s growing Puerto Rican diaspora. Its students and staff have witnessed the island’s mounting humanitarian crisis from afar. And now, they are looking for ways to help. Continue Reading →


Florida’s dual enrollment students complete college at higher rate than national average

Florida leads the nation in college completion by students who take advantage of dual enrollment, according to a new study from the Community College Research Center.

Dual enrollment enables students to enroll in college courses that also count toward their high school diplomas.

The study tracked more than 200,000 high school students nationally who took at least one community college course in the fall of 2010.

It found 88 percent of those students continued in college after high school. Most ended up earning a degree or certificate or transferred from a two-year college to four-year college within five years. Continue Reading →


Palm Beach public schools turn to competency-based learning to boost math

Pictured above is an Accelerated Mathematics Class at Del Prado Elementary School in Boca Raton. Photo credit: Jason Nuttle of the School District of Palm Beach County.

Florida students often have a chance to get ahead in math. They can take algebra I or geometry in middle school, and earn multiple college credits by the time they finish high school.

But those opportunities are usually reserved for older kids. In elementary school, acceleration opportunities remain rare.

One of the largest school districts in the country wants to change that. It created a math program that allows students as early as third grade to get a jump start in math. Advanced students who participate can finish three years’ worth of coursework in two years’ time. That can put them on a path to take highly advanced courses — like higher levels of calculus — before high school graduation.

The Palm Beach School district expanded the program this school year. District officials say students who took part in the Accelerated Mathematics Program in previous years achieved higher learning gains than their peers who were not enrolled in the program. Continue Reading →


School helps its community band together after Hurricane Irma

Residents in Immokalee stand in line waiting for food and water. Immokalee Community School officials helped feed families after the storm. Photo credit: RCMA

Juana Brown describes scenes that unfolded the storm-ravaged farming community of Immokalee, Fla.

A woman pleaded for help as she stood in a long line with her eight-day old baby after Hurricane Irma devastated the small town, 50 miles inland from Naples.

“I don’t have work,” the woman said. “I am ready to go back to work.”

Originally from Guatemala, she had been working in the fields when she went into labor days before Irma struck. The storm destroyed the trailer where she lived with her seven-year-old daughter, who is visually impaired. She waited for hours in the blazing sun with more than 700 other displaced residents. Many had lost their homes and sought federal emergency aid.

Brown is the director of charter schools for the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. It runs the Immokalee Community School, a charter school devoted to migrant families, where many storm victims turned for help.

A teacher began collecting diapers. School officials collected water to distribute to residents. Other staff members signed up as community volunteers. The school has helped feed more than 800 people in one day in the storm’s aftermath. With the help of other community organizations and staff from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office, it’s helping residents apply for FEMA assistance.

In short, the Immokalee Community School has joined other organizations to help this farming community of just more than 24,000 recover from the storm.

“This is part of RCMA’s mission,” Brown said. “We talk about opening doors of opportunity for the community.  We have very intentionally located ourselves in communities. The organization was founded by Mennonites. What they saw as they came into the community is it was not about us doing for them. It was about making sure the community is part of the work we do. We are part of the community where we are located. Each of these communities are our communities.”

RCMA mostly serves children in rural poverty, and the majority are children of Hispanic immigrants. It has three charter schools and 71 learning centers in 21 Florida counties.

At least 38 percent of Immokalee residents are migrants. Many are undocumented. That complicates their efforts to get help after the storm.

The woman Brown described did not have a social security number, which is required for FEMA assistance. The woman’s daughter is a U.S. citizen. But rounding up the necessary paperwork proved difficult in a community with limited gas and electricity. Even under ideal conditions, many residents rely on bicycles for transportation.

But people at the school did not want to leave the woman without aid.

After much searching, and with help from Rubio’s office, they found the paperwork to get the woman’s daughter signed up for Medicaid.

Widespread devastation Continue Reading →


Seminole County continues push with competency-based learning

PSI High

At PSI High, Seminole County Public Schools imagine students will leave conventional classrooms behind, spending more time in conference rooms and small groups. Screenshot from school concept video produced by the school district.

Descriptions make a new elective offered in one Central Florida district sound distinctly different from a typical classroom.

Students work in an environment that resembles a high-tech office. Instead of sitting in rows of desks in front of the teacher and taking tests, they solve real problems in the community.

Seminole County Public Schools call the new class PSI High. Pronounced Sci-Hi, the acronym stands for Problem Solving Incubator. Students apply their skills to make change in the real world.

The elective is part of the school district’s push to help students learn at their own pace. Seminole is one of three districts in Florida that are preparing to test-drive the concept of competency-based learning. School officials want students to advance to higher levels of learning based on their mastery of the topic — rather than the amount of time they spend in class.

Continue Reading →

Calls to help young undocumented immigrants span education’s political divides

Rep. Carlos Curbelo

Democrat and Republican. Charter and district. Union and reformer. This week, groups often at odds over the future of public education found something to agree on. They called on Congress to address the plight of young people who arrived in the United States illegally as children.

President Barack Obama created a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to help those undocumented immigrants get jobs, pursue higher education and live without fear of deportation. The Donald Trump Administration announced this week it would end the program. Trump then called on Congress to replace the program before it gets phased out over six months.

Education groups across the political spectrum spoke about the need to protect DACA students. Some criticized the president. Others took a more measured approach, focusing on the need for legislative action.

Here is what some of them had to say: Continue Reading →