The Future is Bright for Galt Elementary School Students
By SECC Correspondent Mitchel Benson
What if a school or school district set aside the traditional cookie-cutter approach to teaching young students en masse and instead called on administrators, teachers, students and their parents to come together to craft a unique, personalized educational plan for each student?
It sounds wildly ambitious and almost too good to be true, but that’s exactly the sort of educational revolution underway today about 30 miles southeast of Sacramento at the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District.
The Galt elementary school district, which enrolls around 3,620 students at one preschool, five elementary schools, and one middle school, recently partnered with the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC) to produce a series of videos that highlight the Galt Bright Futures Initiative.
The Galt Bright Futures effort “is a very forward-thinking and innovative initiative that involves a focus on personalized learning,” says District Superintendent Karen Schauer, “where each school is really zeroing in on the individual strengths, talents, interests and aspirations of each and every learner.”
Specifically, the initiative’s strength is in its personalization for every learner through strength-based growth plans, rigorous and reflective evaluation plans, a variety of blended learning environments and the District’s NextGen facilities.
The videos highlight some of the Galt District’s innovative approaches to learning, including:
- Its use of makerspace centers (to encourage creativity and invention), school gardens and SEVA Studio digital news production labs (a joint project of the SECC, the Sacramento Metropolitan Cable Television Commission and school districts to create and encourage video production in schools with training opportunities and equipment assistance)
- Its attention to college and career strategies, community service opportunities, mentoring and even its approach to classroom seating (picture exercise balls and pillows instead of row after row of traditional desk and chairs).
- Its curriculum for science (Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS) and math (Khan Academy)
Consider, for example, the way Galt teaches sixth graders the science of heat and energy.
“The coolest part is it’s normal, everyday life stuff that they just haven’t really thought about in the complex way that NGSS is asking them to think about,” says Meika Estey, a sixth grade teacher at River Oaks Elementary School. “So, they are applying scientific knowledge to everyday events and I think that’s really empowering, and it’s just amazing to watch.”
Some of this sounds complicated and challenging for students — and it can be — but the goal of the Galt Bright Futures Initiative is really quite simple: “We want students to want to come to school,” says Dave Nelson, principal at Valley Oaks Elementary School. “We want to be able to provide an environment where students wake up in the morning and say, ‘We want to come to school today because school is fun.’”
So far, it seems to be working. “I love it,” says Krista Meier, a student at Marengo Ranch Elementary School. “I love that you can be challenged for your personal experience for stuff. You can choose what you want to do.”
Even the teachers are taking a new approach to how they do their job. Among other things, they engage in “self reflection” exercises three times a year, to allow teachers to personalize their own professional growth and fine tune their techniques.
The good news and positive impact regarding the Galt Bright Futures Initiative has traveled far and demonstrating learning impact. The U.S. Dept. of Education in 2012 awarded the Galt District $10 million to help implement the initiative as part of the federal agency’s Race to the Top Grant program, only 16 school districts nationwide awarded such grants.
In 2013, the Central Valley Foundation further invested to advance Bright Futures personalization with a focus on Long Term English Learners. WestEd, a San Francisco based educational research agency, has chronicled the Bright Futures journey. Its Impact Study Report found statistically significant gains in academic achievement in the areas of mathematics, reading and language usage.
And 30 miles up Highway 99 in Sacramento, even Sacramento State has taken notice of the innovative learning going on down south.
“We support each other. We’re working together to have students prepared,” says Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen. “If students aren’t prepared, they’re not going to be successful. This is not about a blame game. This is about being partners. So we are equal partners with Galt.”
Watch the Galt Bright Futures Videos:
Learner Goals & Pathways
Blended Personalized Learning Environments
Continuous Improvement Through Shared Responsibility
NextGen School Facilities