Opinion: Mt. Abe Pathways offers valuable real-world learning

Editor’s note: The writer presented this letter to the Mount Abraham Union High School Board and copied the Independent.
As a mother of a former Pathways student (and a forever) personalized learner I write this letter to clear up some apparent misconceptions of what our personalized learning experience was and what it was not.
On March 5, 2015, at the insistence of my son, Carsen Sanchez, I attended the Principal’s breakfast at Mount Abraham Union High School so I could read a letter he had written to the administration when he learned about the proposed cuts to the Pathways Program.
During the meeting, I shared with those attending a photograph of my son taken by the Burlington Free Press last April doing what inspires him the most: playing golf. I shared the photo because I wanted those in attendance to see the face of a personalized learner. Carsen used golf as a medium by which to incorporate the fundamental elements of a public education.
His journey and exploration of his passion area, which happens to be golf, led him to pursue, and ultimately attend, a prestigious golf academy and prep school in South Carolina where he has received the following grades: 100 percent in British Literature, 96 percent in Psychology and a 93 percent in Environmental Science.
This semester finds him in Economics, Algebra 2, and Art History. His grades currently are all in the high 80s. He is a junior in high school, and he is flourishing in large part due to his Pathways experience.
The Mount Abraham Pathways Program created an environment that fostered Carsen’s commitment to and passion for golf. Pathways helped him develop a love of learning that will remain with him for the rest of his life.
During a recent Mount Abraham School Board meeting, a board member referred to golf and snowboarding as “odd” topics for education. This member dismissively referred to such study as “taking golf,” which suggests a lack of understanding of the Pathways Program. It’s disheartening to hear a board member perpetuate misinformation about one of Mount Abe’s most successful, creative and progressive forms of learning.
In my son’s case, the program used a topic that engaged the student to learn science, math, reading, writing, public speaking, spelling, etc. It replaced sitting in a classroom memorizing textbook answers for tests with an exploration of a vocation that excited and challenged him. Much like vocation education, Pathways applies learning to real-life applications. It is a direction in education that developed countries are more frequently pursuing. As a community, we should build upon the success of this non-traditional program rather than cutting its funding.
While in Pathways, Carsen learned about sustainable golf courses, golf course management, and golf course design. On his own initiative he took this love of golf and brought it back to his elementary school, The Bridge School, and created a golf program for the elementary school children. He did this because he believed that learning to play the game of golf taught him respect for himself and for others, and he wanted to share that with the younger students. At 15, because of the freedom of Pathways, he was a teacher and not just a student, which taught him important life lessons and instilled a whole new level of confidence, as well as language and speaking skills. His Pathways focus on golf was not simply “taking golf.” Rather, he used golf as a vehicle to learn important core curriculum concepts.
Mount Abraham’s Pathways Program deserves your support. As the mother of the only “golf” student in the Pathways Program, I’m here to correct the misinformation about the Pathways Program offered by a board member who we must assume spoke out of lack of knowledge about the program, and not with any malice toward the two students whose passion areas were used as examples, and other students who are benefiting from it.
Differences of opinion should exist for healthy debate and discussion. But surely board members should seek to accurately educate their constituencies about the school’s programs, and certainly not purposely degrade and dishearten students in those programs as if they were less deserving than students enrolled in more traditional instruction. That Mt. Abe has both is to its enormous credit, and the community should embrace that status with every effort possible. It’s one of the programs that make the high school stand out above the others.
Lisa Sanchez

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