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Advanced Opportunities bill a game-changer

If you attended Flathead High between 1967 and 1996, you may have taken Outdoor Literature from Mr. Burt.

Mr. Burt, or Dad, as I called him, taught high school English for 30 years. While he enthusiastically led rigorous Senior Honors English and Sophomore English courses, Mr. Burt understood not every student had interest in the classic canon. It would take innovation to garner the attention of kids who far preferred trekking the “Bob” to classroom learning.

Enter, Outdoor Literature. In Outdoor Literature, students gained an English credit while reading about outdoor survival, backcountry adventures and storied mountain men. The final class practicum included a multi-day camping trip with application of lessons for the semester. Demand overflowed, reading comprehension improved, and classroom participation soared. Perhaps the greatest lesson from Mr. Burt’s Outdoor Literature class is that appealing to a student’s interests and aptitudes can inspire joy in learning.

Today, administrators and educators in the Flathead are working tirelessly to implement new methodologies proven worldwide to be the best of practices in preparing students for today’s marketplace. As legislators, we must look for ways to support our educators, collaborating to find the best opportunities for our students.

(Pictured Right: Mr. Burt in the wild)

Consider Transformational Learning, passed in the 2019 session, which is described by the Office of Public Instruction as a “flexible system of pupil-centered learning.” Transformational Learning allows students to learn at their own pace and through means that “meet the Montana Constitutional mandate of “fully developing the educational potential of each person.” For example, a student who excels in geometry may cover a year’s worth of curriculum in three months and move on to advanced math courses. Transversely, a teacher can tailor a program for a student who requires more than a year. Many improvements were made in 2019 including more flexibility to incorporate hands-on learning opportunities and proficiency-based testing; workman’s compensation laws were adapted to allow students to earn school credit while working alongside area employers in internships and apprenticeships. These and many others laid the groundwork to strengthen our student offerings.

This session, I’m pleased to sponsor House Bill 257 CTE Advanced Opportunities. This bill was first brought in 2019 by Rep. Jones and has enjoyed a strong adoption rate by schools across the state, with 62 districts now participating. CTE (Career Technical Education) Advanced Opportunities provides funding to cover out-of-pocket costs for families who have a student pursuing an internship, apprenticeship, or other learning opportunity outside the four walls of a school building. Qualifying items could include steel toed boots, tools, medical scrubs, testing or course fees, even gas cards or a bus fare — anything that provides practical aid in furthering a student’s hands-on experience. This program is integral in preparing our students for great living wage jobs, many of which will not require a four-year degree.

When knocking doors last year, a unifying message from constituents in House District 7 was prioritizing Career Technical Education offerings at the high school level. The opportunity to carry this outstanding legislation forward and secure ongoing funding is an honor. As one educator put it, “In my 36 years, I have never seen a more effective program. It is not just a game-changer, it’s a life-changer.”

Undoubtedly, even good change is difficult. None of this is possible without the tremendous effort and passion of our local educators and administrators. I am grateful for the commitment of our teachers and encourage parents, community members, and business leaders to lend their support of these innovations as we work together to create a bright future for students of the Flathead.

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