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Monument Mountain High Will Use $300,000 Grant To Transform Educational Model

A snow-covered high school campus
Monument Mountain Regional High School
Monument Mountain Regional High School.

A Great Barrington, Massachusetts high school has received a $300,000 grant to continue its efforts to redesign learning and teaching.

The money comes from the Barr Foundation, a Boston-based non-profit with billions of dollars dedicated to supporting the arts, climate change solutions and students. The organization was founded by cable television billionaire Amos Hostetter in 1997.

“We had worked with them on a previous grant started with Mass IDEAS, which was another group that Barr also supported and in that work, they came to know us better, and we came to know them better," said Peter Dillon, superintendent of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, which includes the recipient of the grant: Monument Mountain Regional High School. “We were invited to submit an application. Barr is also doing working in Berkshire County with three other school districts on a Portrait of a Graduate, so, making sense of what somebody needs to know and be able to do as they move their way through the school system. So this work reinforces and supports some other work that's going on in the county.”

The $300,000 will support a variety of projects.

“It funds time of teachers to work on curriculum and assessment," said Dillon. "It funds time for students to meet after school and get compensated a little bit. So they can have a greater voice in in learning. And school governance, we've got a thing called CREW, which in some places is called advisory, where we're trying to address the social emotional needs of young people, and it creates space to do work to plan that. And then really carry it out. It lets us do some school visits to other schools that are doing interesting work. So we're going to do a trip to the Met School in Providence, and a school in Locust Valley in New York to look give examples of independent learning experiences for young people and different ways to evaluate that.”

The funding will also continue an ongoing transformation of education at Monument Mountain, which has 535 students.

“One of the big changes that we've implemented this year, particularly at the ninth grade level, is a shift away from tracking students into predefined college preparatory or honors level courses. And we now have students grouped heterogeneously. And we are working hard to create a system and structure that provides every student the opportunity to earn honors distinction based on the work that they do in the class. And we're really excited about that," said Principal Kristi Farina. “Another big shift that we're implementing is in our grading practices. For a long time, we've used a very traditional grading system that most people are very familiar with, with percents and numbers, you've got a 75, or an 87. And sometimes it's not very clear what those numbers mean. And what we're trying to move towards is what is called a proficiency based system, where students get more targeted feedback on the skills that we're asking them to demonstrate, and whether they're emerging or developing or proficient, or even exemplary in that skill area, so that they better understand their own academic growth, and can identify the places in which they really need to improve and the places in which they're excelling. And so we're hoping that those changes over time make a big difference in the educational experience for kids.”

Students are intimately involved in the process.

“We have a student based group here at the high school, we refer to them as YATs," explained Farina. "And that stands for Youth And Adults Transforming Schools Together, those students, they use their voice and get involved in the change that they want to see. Last year, for example, they were really at the forefront around our lack of communication and our need to improve our communication. And they actually, themselves took the initiative to do some research on ways that the school district could improve in this area. And the school district as a result has purchased an app that goes with our grading system Power School that we are hoping to implement later this year called Parent Square. And that's really a result of the students’ leadership in this area.”

Dillon says he wants all of the stakeholders in the district to feel included in the ongoing project to reimagine education at Monument Mountain.

“We’ll be checking back in with community members, we're going to do a lot of community engagement," he told WAMC. "As we continue to roll out things, we'll get feedback, and it's a very exciting time to be part of the Berkshire Hills School District.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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