George Lucas Educational Foundation

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Montpelier High School

Grades 9-12 | Montpelier, VT

Community-Based Learning: Connecting Students With Their World

At Montpelier High School, community-based learning focuses on student interest to create internship opportunities that are designed to connect academic learning to the real world.
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Community-Based Learning: Connecting Students With Their World (Transcript)

Matt: Seventy-five percent of last year's graduating class participated in community-based learning. It's not required, it's not anything that they have to do for graduation, but I think the numbers speak for themselves, an important quality of living is to be curious. Students have an opportunity to take the community-based learning program, and that encompasses a number of elements, including internships. They enter into a discussion with myself or my two colleagues about some of their interests, which they may have already developed and they're walking through the door with like, hey I'm really interested in, international affairs, how can I access that sort of curiosity in the small town of Montpelier? And so we just begin a dialogue about what that would look like, why they're interested in that. And I think that that discussion, on the front end, helps craft the right experience, with the right mentor and the right pieces of any sort of internship.

Adam: We're trying to break down this idea that learning is contained in a classroom for some reason.

Rachel: So I went to Matt McLane around Thanksgiving and I was like Matt, I want to do something fraud prevention and he goes, you what? And we found DFR, the Department of Financial Regulation.

Sarah: We were thrilled to get her, not only is she just a real go-getter but she gives us a really valuable perspective from young people, which we are missing around here.

Rachel: I really like having the chance to actually learn things hands-on and not just be in a classroom. In the first few weeks I just got a kind of taste of what everyone does, I shadowed a bunch of different people, and then I settled in on, my project that I'm working on now.

Understanding credit cards and loans, identify theft and then sort of a pretext.

I am creating an app that is going to teach the basics of financial literacy.

Sarah: Yeah, and maybe it would be cool to have some like interaction in there so you don't see it all at once and you actually have...

Rachel: Right.

Sarah: like dig deeper.

Matt: On the front end there's a number of different pieces that the students are expected to do. A letter of interest, cover letter certainly is an expectation, it's just a way to say I'm interested in your work. And then there's kind of interpersonal oral communication in the site interview. They're meeting with the community partner, not only to learn about what the site possibilities are, but to figure out is it the right fit.

Garrett: I'm not quite sure yet of what I want to do after high school, but I have been looking into the whole forestry business. I do my internship twice a week.

Marc: We try to have him do a little bit of hands-on on all the different aspects that we do here, from the very beginning, to the correspondence with the client, to the end with the kiln.

Garrett: He's taught me all about the different ways to calculate and measure the pricing and the different species.

Marc: When you have to stop and you explain to somebody versus doing it repetitively, you get a whole different feel of what actually you are doing. So it's been a good experience for me.

Sarah: The main thing that we wanted to make sure that we helped accommodate was the learning goals, so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Adam: We have seven learning expectations in this school. We focus on reading, writing, communication, problem solving, habits of learning, creativity, and citizenship.

Rachel: We have to pick one or two and be like, this is how I'm going to fulfill this, and then prove that at the end.

Adam: So it's not just a cool experience, there's that really kind of clear connection between what they're doing and the values that the school community has. And many of the projects that they do are developed in conjunction with their community partner. And we want to honor all those possibilities for students in terms of what the product is. The end product, from the school's end, could be a reflective paper that incorporates a lot of the pieces that they observed or took part in, so awareness certainly could be an end product.

Matt: What I'm not willing to do is to allow students to not think about their experience. And so we're realizing, with 60 to 70 students who are independently working out in the community, that it's important to bring them together so that they have some sort of reflective cohesion. The seminars are small groups that come together once a month to connect up with each other and to kind of talk about their experiences. It's also a really practical time for them to develop their resume, write a thank you letter. We have an evaluation that we share with community partners and it identifies areas that a lot of employment evaluations would involve, persistence, responsibility, attention to detail. It's a way for us to align our learning expectations with real life employer expectations. Throughout the experience my role is to really help students to say why did you approach it that way? What is it that motivated you to either go after it or to really retract from your enthusiasm for it?

Rachel: I want to help people and I feel like working with financial regulation and fraud prevention can help the whole of the country.

Garrett: Doing this internship is a commitment and I'm devoted to doing that. I've actually been looking at colleges in the forestry program.

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Community-Based Learning: Connecting Students With Their World

The Community-Based Learning (CBL) program is a key practice through which MHS engages student interest and curiosity as part of their educational experience. Though the program is voluntary, over 75 percent of 2014's graduating class participated in CBL.

The heart of the program is the internship experience. Students work with local organizations, businesses, and individuals to craft an internship that allows them to explore their interests, learn skills, and work collaboratively with the organization.

How It's Done

How It's Done

Initial Inquiry + Site Visit

The community-based learning program is open to every student. Students who are interested in an internship experience speak with one of three coordinators. Together, they identify the student's interest and purpose, and discuss the possibilities in the Montpelier community. Sometimes the coordinator will suggest a community partner who has already worked with the school. At other times a new connection will be made with a new community partner.

This initial discussion with the coordinator is important in helping to identify student interest, craft the right experience for the right mentor, and assemble the pieces of the internship.

Students then write a letter of interest (a cover letter) to the prospective community partner. The school provides some templates for this, since most students are new to the world of work. In the cover letter, students will introduce themselves and express why they are interested in that particular site, what skills they bring, and want they'd like to learn. The student begins to develop his or her own relationship with the community partner, developing a set of goals and expectations for what the internship will look like. A coordinator is there to oversee the process.

If the organization in question is interested, a site visit is set up for the student. The coordinator will accompany the student on the initial visit, which explores what the site possibilities are, as well as determining if it is the right fit for the student and the mentor organization.


The amount of time that a student dedicates to an internship experience will vary. Some students want to just dip their toes into seeing whether a particular field is of interest to them, so they'll spend about an hour of their week at a site. Other students want a more immersive experience, and may dedicate two days a week for two or three hours a day to the experience. Students can ultimately design their schedules around what kind of experience they want.

Community Partners

Community partners can be developed with any organization, business, or individual (such as an artist, photographer, or journalist who works as a freelancer or owns a small business.) It's crucial for the coordinators to help the partner understand the expectations of what a student internship involves -- giving the student a defined experience that is meaningful and allows him or her to learn and contribute to that organization. Students should not just be used for menial tasks, but are there to learn and contribute in a meaningful way. The coordinator is there to help the student and organization define what can be possible at the site, and take into account everyone's time and expertise.

Some of the MHS community partners have included the State of Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, a local sawmill, the Vermont legislature, a local newspaper, an architecture firm, and a radio station. The possibilities are endless, but the relationship between the school and the community partner is essential.

Learning Expectations: Connecting Student Experiences to Their Learning

MHS has centered its teaching and learning around a set of learning expectations (LEs) that transcend every class and experience the students have at the school. These LEs fall within seven areas (all with sub-sections) that are the heart of the skills students develop in school:

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Creativity
  4. Citizenship
  5. Habits of learning
  6. Problem solving
  7. Communication

For the CBL program, students will identify one or two LEs and develop a plan as to how their internship will connect to them. The coordinator also helps the students and the community partners identify those connections between the internship and the school community's values. For example, a student working at a local newspaper may be developing the LEs of writing and creativity. In that student's Statement of Purpose, which describes the internship and the work intended, he or she would also write how the LEs will be addressed. The LEs provide a clear connection between what the student is doing at the internship site and what the school does.

CBL Seminar

Each semester, about 50-65 students are engaged in internships throughout the Montpelier community. Students in the CBL program are required to take the CBL Seminar, which meets once a month. The seminar is designed to provide a support network for students and have them reflect on their experiences. It meets monthly, and consists of 8-12 students per class. During the seminar, students take part in activities that help them think about their work and reflect on the internship experience, its challenges, and its strengths. The second part of the seminar is more practical, as students work on their resume, write thank you letters, learn how to do an interview correctly, or even research college programs that might be of interest to them based on their internship experience.

Assessment, Evaluation, and End Products

The CBL course is pass/fail. Each student and his or her community partner develop a set of goals for the internship, which sometimes includes an end product that the student is responsible for on-site. For example, an architecture firm may want a student to complete a design for a particular space, or a newspaper may want a student to write a feature-length article. However, not all internships come with concrete end products. Often, a student's end product is awareness and knowledge about that particular field or organization, and that information can be used in future decisions about college or career plans.

Students are also expected to write a reflective paper at the end of the semester, which consists of what they observed and what they took part in. This paper also includes how the student thought that he or she connected to the learning his or her expectations at the beginning, and in what ways those were fulfilled.

Each site mentor also fills out an evaluation form for the student, which lists a number of skills -- persistence, responsibility, attention to detail -- and asks the mentor to rate the student in these areas. These evaluations align nicely with the LEs, and students begin to understand what skills and responsibilities are valued in the workplace. Mentors also write a narrative summary of the student's work and experience at the site.


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