I attended the Prichard Committee’s Groundswell Summit held at Floyd Central High School in June. This annual event brings together Kentucky educators, families, administrators and other community leaders who are seeking new and innovative ideas for increasing student success, with a special focus on family engagement.
Family engagement is designed to bring families and schools together as partners to improve outcomes for students. We know that this type of engagement is successful when families feel empowered to support learning and are encouraged to advocate for the needs of their students. I commend the Prichard Committee’s steadfast commitment to this effort in our state.
Family engagement is also a central element of United We Learn, Kentucky’s vision for the future of education in the Commonwealth. After listening to Kentuckians about what they wanted from their education system, we consistently heard people asking for a more meaningful collaboration and connection with their schools.
Floyd County showed out as a wonderful host and as an example of what we need more of in public education. Under the leadership of their incredible superintendent Anna Shephard, Floyd County Schools showcased what it means to bring a big, bold vision of education to reality.
We saw student demonstrations of learning aligned to the district’s portrait of a graduate, which is a community-defined set of skills students will need to be successful in their future. Several of the students I met already had jobs lined up for after graduation that were connected directly to the skills and experiences they acquired as part of the district’s programs and its connections to employment opportunities in the community. Floyd County offers students everything from engineering, VEX Robotics and a container farm that grows lettuce, to a student-designed prosthetic hand, health career experiences and criminal justice classes.
While all of it was an absolute delight and getting to meet the teachers and students in Floyd County was a treat for me, the experience that perhaps stuck out the most was seeing students mark and catalog evidence at a mock crime scene, and then devise a theory of the crime using the knowledge and skills they had acquired earlier in their coursework.
This kind of applied and problem/project-based learning is at the heart of the state’s United We Learn effort – which has as its centerpiece the creation of deep, authentic and meaningful learning experiences for students.
Too often in the past, students would have sat in class and heard someone give them facts about investigations or criminal justice and that would have been the end of the learning experience. While there were certainly those foundational elements in Floyd County, we saw students go further with the crime scene project and actually apply their learning in a much more real and tangible way.
If we are going to prepare our students for the fast-moving, automated and globally interconnected world that is already here and is accelerating every minute, then we also need to intentionally create opportunities for them to engage in this kind of meaningful work. We have to move far beyond just memorizing and passively receiving information, and toward using that knowledge to solve a problem and adapt to new conditions.
Floyd County reminded me of what is going right with public education in Kentucky. If you watch closely in our schools, there is indeed a “groundswell” happening.