PORTLAND — Students at Portland High School will start this year on a new path.
Students in grades 10 through 12 will have a choice of four career pathways beginning this year. The pathways are funded by a Nellie Mae Education Foundation Grant, which contributed $5.1 million to be divided among the city’s four high schools.
Students entering freshman year will take part in what is called Freshman Academy. That includes a seminar which, according to Principal Deborah Migneault, will lay a foundation for skills the students will need throughout high school and life.
In their sophomore year, students will then take an introductory course to one of the pathways. She said the new pathways are modeled after a Johns Hopkins University talent development model, and is coming in phases.
Migneault said Portland High has been discussing the pathways since she became principal four years ago. She said the pathways will include classes based on career interests, job shadowing and possibly internships.
The four pathways are creative and performing arts, health and natural sciences, law and public service, and engineering, architecture and trades.
Migneault said students will not be confined to any particular pathway if they want something broader or change their minds. She said if a student in one particular pathway wants to take a course from a different pathway they will be able, and if a student just wants to study “liberal arts,” he or she is free to do so.
“We’re not trying to pigeon-hole kids,” she said. “They can explore various fields if they want.”
Migneault said the pathways will not change the core graduation requirements. Students will still have to take four years of English, four years of math, and three years of science, but there are various electives students can take to fulfill those courses.
If students don’t start the pathways in sophomore year, after the Freshman Academy, they will be pretty much tied to fulfilling the sequences in junior and senior years. She said most career academies “really break open” in a student’s junior and senior year, because during the first two years students are taking more core classes.
“For somebody going into, let’s say a science, you want to make sure they’ve taken physics, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, that type of thing, so you want to give them enough time,” she said. “So as freshmen they go through all the pathways and what it means, sophomores they’ll start in the introductory courses, but those are still in developing stages as well so that they pertain to each pathway. So students get an idea of what it means for each pathway and what courses are available to them as juniors and seniors.”
Migneault said they’re trying to have teachers become facilitators who help students find the value in education.
“We’re trying not to continue to deliver content in the traditional way, where the teacher stands in the front of the class, opens the top of your head and pours information in,” Migneault said. “I think we’re trying to get students more engaged in their work and in their learning, to be more responsible for that.”
Migneault said the pathways are a response to capturing and piquing the students’ curiosity.
“We’re looking to get kids more engaged in their own learning, and I think you do that when you can understand who they are and what they possibly could be or want to be, and help them see that potential, help them reach that goal that they think they may have.”
Portland High School Principal Deborah Migneault in her office.