Education Plan Connects Learning to Making a Living


When students can't connect with why they're learning what they're learning, they become disengaged and perform poorly, but if they understand that their classes are a stepping stone to becoming what they want to be in life, they will be more successful. That's the idea behind Durango School District 9-R's new Portrait of a Graduate education plan. This story is sponsored by 2180 Lighting and Design and Kroegers Ace Hardware

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When you were a high school student, did you ever wonder why you had to take algebra or world history or any class for that matter? Durango School District 9-R hopes its new educational plan will help students answer the why for themselves. You're watching the "Local News Network", brought to you by Kroegers Ace Hardware and 2180 Lighting & Design. I'm Hannah Robertson. Durango School District 9-R last spring, unveiled a new educational plan that will provide students a more direct correlation between what they're learning and who they want to be in the world. It's called Portrait of a Graduate, and its goal is to assist students with defining their interests in life, understanding how the classes they take are the building blocks to the life they want to lead, and providing students with a pathway to get there.

Portrait of a Graduate is a way of kind of seizing onto that passion in a very young age and helping children understand how they might be in the world and make a living. Karen Cheser has a wonderful explanation that is in Japanese culture, it's called ikigai, and it's up here on my board right here behind me with those interlocking circles. And it talks about what you're good at, what the world needs, how you can actually make a living at this. And it's pretty interesting when you think about those intersections because you still have to be practical and make a living.

The plan's foundation are competencies in basic skills like reading, writing, math, and science as defined by Colorado Department of Education standards. But it also provides students experiences that will help them understand their interests, their talents and how they can build on them to create a career after graduation. Superintendent Karen Cheser guided development of a similar program in her previous school district in Kentucky, but this plan reflects the values of the community.

We had 36 meetings across six months, and about 6,800 people weighed in on a question, and the question was, "What do our students need to thrive in the world when they graduate?" Seems like a simple question but a lot of different answers. And we wanted their responses to be captured for our unique area in Durango. So Portrait of a Graduate is like a compass for students, and it is like a North Star for our staff. I'm bringing up a lot of navigational metaphors for a reason because it's about helping students find their path in life.

The school district's two newest buildings, the Career and Innovation Center at Durango High School and Miller Middle School will reflect the new goals. The career center will incorporate elements of a modern day professional business environment, including spaces for collaboration, a pitch room where students can present ideas, a cafe and meeting rooms where students can work with community mentors. Miller Middle School will incorporate a makerspace, robotics and programming lab, and spaces for indoor and outdoor learning. Construction on the 10-million career center will begin in September. Estimated costs for the Miller replacement project is $45 million and will start in January. Both projects are funded by revenues from Bond Issue 4A, which voters approved in November 2020. Graduation requirements still include English, math, science, social studies, a world language or culture, physical education and health, and general electives, two of which include classes that are connected to the student's career pathway. Students also must undertake a real-world experience like internships, community service projects, concurrent enrollment in a post-secondary class related to the pathway, or work experience. In addition to academic skills, Portrait of a Graduate includes soft skill development, like leadership, problem solving, confident communications, flexible and creative thinking, collaboration, and risk taking. It's all about providing students with the information and support they need to find their passion and purpose in the world.

And a lot of times, students who want to pursue a very specific passion, particularly in something that's career technical education based traditionally, feel like they have to choose between classes and credits versus following their passion. And we want to make sure with this program that these students will be able to do both, that they'll be able to get the credits that they need to graduate, but that they will be able to pursue their passion so they can try different things.

Sluis said teachers and staff are undergoing training now to incorporate the new goals in their instructions starting this fall. And while it may seem as if educational goals are constantly shifting, Sluis says that change is essential when it comes to teaching and learning.

We have to stay current with how the world is moving and changing.

To learn more about Portrait of a Graduate and the district's construction projects, visit Thanks for watching this edition of the "Local News Network". I'm Hannah Robertson.


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