Students at the Helm


Meriden Public Schools, Meriden, Connecticut

About the Program

Students at the Helm provides opportunities for students to design their own learning experiences for credit. Meriden Public Schools’ diverse enrollment of more than 9,000 students is 47 percent Hispanic, 35 percent white, 15 percent black, and 3 percent Asian. Many students face challenges, with 70 percent of families eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Student voice, greater choice, real-world experience, and anytime, anywhere learning are the building blocks of student-centered practices. But high school schedule constraints and limited in-school offerings were barriers. Recognizing the need for an innovative solution, the district created the Personalized Learning Experience (PLE) program. Students create their own personalized learning experiences for credit, pursuing an area of interest or investigation of a possible career option outside the traditional classroom setting. Activities take place before, during, and after school, and on nights and weekends. With grant funding, two part-time PLE Coordinator positions were established at each high school. They are certified teachers who devote two periods a day to work with students on their projects. They also build awareness of the program in the community, recruiting local businesses and community agencies to provide real-world experiences.


Student participation has increased dramatically. Hundreds of students earned PLE credits last year, with a 20 percent increase anticipated in 2015-16. These students designed their own programs thattake place at school, at local businesses, at community agencies, online, and at home. Student PLEs run the gamut from chairing a Go-Green Committee at the local Sheraton Hotel, raising trout for release into local waters with the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association, providing technical support at the district courthouse, to studying Latin or advanced piano or directing a student play.

The Board's Involvement

The school board provided the leadership and commitment needed to successfully launch the program. In August 2014, the board added four goals to its student-centered learning policy, one of which addresses anytime, anywhere learning: “Provide opportunities from learning outside the traditional classroom,” which helped continue the impetus to offer a personalized learning experience program. The board ensured that central office staff met with leaders from both teachers and administrators unions for their support. The board recognized that, for the program to be sustainable, community partners and local businesses needed to offer on-site learning opportunities for students. To support this endeavor, it created a Community Support Award to recognize these key partners monthly.


Mark D. Benigni

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