Monday, March 13, 2017

My Monthly Column – March 2017

Community Partners Help PPS Students Achieve
By Xavier Botana

I’ve been exploring the four goals in the Portland Public Schools’ new Comprehensive Plan in my monthly columns. I recently wrote about our Whole Student and Equity goals. This month, I’m focusing on our Achievement goal and the variety of ways the Portland Public Schools helps students achieve.

Our Achievement goal states that all our students will be prepared for college and career and empowered to pursue a productive postsecondary path.

That doesn’t mean all students necessarily will go to college. Our goal is to prepare every student to be ready for college, and to empower each student – through good guidance and an individual student plan – to be able to make a decision about whether to go to college or choose another postsecondary option.

Our Comprehensive Plan has several strategies related to our Achievement goal. We will ensure that our curriculum aligns to educational standards and that tasks reflect learning expectations. We will develop a districtwide intervention strategy with a focus on extending learning for students who need it. To drive instruction, we also plan to improve access to, and the use of, student learning data.

How will we know if we’re meeting our Achievement goal? To measure progress, we have a series of benchmarks with which we will hold ourselves accountable. They include ensuring that students are reading on grade level by the end of third grade; are “algebra ready” by the end of eighth grade; and are “on track” when it comes to grades, course completion and attendance by the end of ninth grade.

However, there also are other ways that the Portland Public Schools helps students achieve. As a large urban school district with the city of Portland as our campus, we have a wealth of opportunities – a world-class art museum, a critically acclaimed symphony orchestra and a professional theater venue, for example – on our doorstep. These opportunities are unique to students in our district by virtue of going to school in this great city.

As just one example, I recently spent an amazing hour being interviewed by some fifth-graders at Ocean Avenue Elementary School about my family’s immigration story. The interview was part of a project that the students are engaged in with Side x Side to make a documentary film based on the students’ study of the history of migration and immigration.

Side x Side is a Portland nonprofit that helps integrate arts-based programming into the curriculum of the Portland Public Schools. As evidenced by my experience with Ocean Avenue students, this partnership is helping students with critical thinking, creativity and innovation. I was impressed with how smart, serious and well prepared my student interviewers were!

Another community partner, the Portland Museum of Art (PMA), also helps our students expand their knowledge. March is National Youth Art Month and the creative works of Portland Public Schools students are among the more than 90 works of art from K-12 Maine students on display at the museum through April 2.

That exhibition, sponsored by the Maine Art Education Association, is an annual event. However, thanks to Culture Club-Portland, Portland students get additional exposure to the museum and other cultural institutions.

Culture Club-Portland was created five years ago to expand cultural experiences for students in Portland’s public schools. The consortium, brought together by a generous anonymous donor, includes the PMA, Portland Ovations, Portland Stage, and Portland Symphony Orchestra (PSO). Its aspirational goal is to provide free arts experiences to every child in the Portland Public Schools, every year.

Each arts organization has special programming for our students. For example, the PMA uses a “visual-thinking-strategy teaching method” to help students in middle school and high school explore social justice issues as they decipher the meaning behind a circa 1913 symbolic painting featuring an interracial couple.

In another instance, the PSO worked with Lincoln Middle School history teachers to present a “Musical Melting Pot” concert featuring significant music during the historical periods Lincoln eighth-graders were studying. And a recent Portland Stage Company workshop helped students at Lyseth Elementary school appreciate the theater.

Students learn best when they’re actively engaged. Thank you to all our community partners for engaging our students in such wonderful learning opportunities.