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Mattoon Childcare Occupational

Mattoon High School students prepare a lesson they will share with preschool students.

MATTOON -- It has been months since the Mattoon School District was accepted into the state's competency-based pilot program, and extensive work has already been made in the schools to figure what that means for the district.

The district was accepted into the Competency-Based Pilot program along with a growing number of school district's through Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) early in the fall.

Already, the district has made steps toward implementing the competency-based system, which includes more individualized learning as well as better readiness beyond the classroom. The most visible strides the district has made so far has been in the work vocational areas of the high school.

Beyond offering skills to the Mattoon High School students that come and go from programs like the agriculture, healthcare, building trades and child occupational programs, the district is in the process of offering more clear career pathways for these students, starting in the next school year, with curriculum that could lead to a head start on a career in whatever field these students are interested in tackling through dual credit programs, many of which the high school has already set up.

More recently, changes OK'd by the Mattoon school board have been made to the academic structure of the agriculture courses focusing on pathways that might lead to careers including potentially agriculture mechanics.

Christy Hild, Student Services director, said all of this work tied into the competency-based program and part of a general initiative the district has been dabbling with for years with programs like the building trades program, which is "teaching beyond the classroom walls."

Erin Clifford, family consumer sciences teacher, said the vocational teachers are doing what they have done but with an actual pathway for students to get into the workforce in those select fields.

Big plans have already been set up for childcare courses at the high school for the next school year. As previously reported, it was announced that the Franklin School would offer a tuition-based preschool class. With this, the program also is open to high school students looking to get into early education as their career.

These high school students will be enrolling in dual credit curriculum through Lake Land College. Up to 40 students enrolled in family and consumer science early childhood development courses for these students.

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Erin Clifford, high school teacher heading up the childcare occupational courses, said these students will get more hands-on experience in the field before even leaving high school.

Clifford added the competency-based pilot has allowed vocational teachers the opportunity to flesh out what they are already doing with an actual pathway for students to get into the workforce in those select fields.

This is only one piece of the pie, though. Hild stressed the school district is focusing on three points:

  • Increase opportunities for all students.
  • Personalize learning through interests and pacing.
  • Expand learning beyond classroom walls.

For the ISBE, the focus is on individualized learning. According to them, students in competency-based systems have to demonstrate mastery of skills and concepts in order to advance instead of the traditional model of seat time, simply making it through to the end. This might mean one student is learning more advanced concepts in math while other students learn more remedial concepts, but all in the same classroom.

Elementary education in Mattoon has already implemented these practices in the classroom. For instance, students are separated out into different reading groups based on their reading skill level.

Taking part in this program, the district has been working on expanding the scope of these practices to the middle school and high school.

As a part of their application to take part in the grant, though, Mattoon wanted to open up pathways through the district to give students a feel for where they want to go outside of high school. This includes expanding learning programs outside the high school like the building trades program and other dual-credit programs to get a real hands-on understanding of certain career fields.

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Contact Jarad Jarmon at (217) 238-6839. Follow him on Twitter: @JJarmonReporter

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Reporter

Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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