What work-based learning in Vermont can look like

On exploring flexible pathways to learning

equity in educationThis past August, Vermont Secretary of Education Dr Rebecca Holcombe addressed the 2016 Amplifying Student Voice & Partnership Conference on the topic of equity in education. She was also kind enough to allow us to record and share her remarks.

In the first of two installments, we hear from Secretary Holcombe as she highlights the story of one particular student from Randolph Union High School, who, along with support from his community, found a way to channel his passion for farming into work-based learning in Vermont, and from there, a world of high-level business skills.

Meet Gus Linnebur.

“I have a video here to start your day and get you thinking about what it means to personalize, what it means to fit school to the child, while still holding high expectations for those children. And to challenge them to achieve their vision while realizing that maybe you have to walk different paths to get to the same end.work-based learning in Vermont

This is a student-made video. [Linnebur] put it together to talk about his own experience of using Flexible Pathways in Vermont. And what’s so powerful about it is that he really illustrates that personalization is a process.

It’s not: you have a PLP, so we’ve done personalization! But it’s that personalization is a recursive interaction between the individual and the work and the learning goals.

And a process of not letting go of any of those aspects, because if you do, you won’t serve the child.

This is a student who was nicknamed in his school “Bloody Knuckles” because he used to walk around and punch lockers all the time. He was a student who, by his own acknowledgement, was getting in a lot of trouble, and maybe not going to finish high school.

And somebody, in the course of the PLP process, cued into the fact that we have something called ‘work-based internships’, and saw an opportunity.

And I’m going to let Gus explain it to you.”

Gus’ Goat Farm Internship



What Gus’ Story Can Teach Us:

work-based learning in Vermont“Here’s a student that I think is going to grow up, run a business, employ people in his community and increase our export positive balance by sending his artisanal cheeses to New York City somewhere down the road.

And that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing to help somebody find something they can do that can add value and can help them support themselves, support their family and employ other people, and end up being part of civil society somewhere down the road.

This is not something that we might have thought of as a success, if you think of how narrow some of the accountability frameworks we talk about what success in school is, in terms of what bare knowledge and college-readyness is.

But I think it’s important to remember in a part of what we can do when we take Gus’ challenge, is think differently about how to ensure potential and aspiration, and make sure it’s really at the table with all of us.”


Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs. Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

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