Fuse RI Alumni Tour Spotlight: Heidi Vazquez
This year, Highlander Institute is staying connected with our Cohort 1 Fuse Fellows through a Fuse RI Alumni Tour. We’re visiting Fuse Alumni around the state to catch up with them in their current roles, and documenting our experience. Follow the hashtag #FuseRIAlumniTour for more updates!
Prior to my visit with Heidi this May, I had been to The Compass School on two separate occasions for meetings on rainy afternoons. As I drove up and parked, I was excited to explore the campus on a warm and sunny morning. Students were outside working in the garden and several chickens roamed across my path as I made my way to Heidi’s classroom.
Heidi teaches grades 3 and 4, and she was in the midst of a problem-based math lesson when I found her room. The previous day, students worked in their class’ designated garden plot and Heidi used that as a jumping off point for designing the lesson. Students were working in different groups around the room, either using laptops to access Zearn independently or meeting with Heidi to map out diagrams of the garden plots they’d measured. Then they began investigating area and perimeter. Heidi finds that with the shift toward PARCC and literacy-based questions and assessments, it’s incredibly important to also integrate this kind of hands-on application for students. It was clear that students enjoyed making connections between math and what was happening right outside their classroom walls.
Heidi is hopeful that she can build even more of these types of problems and projects into the curriculum of her blended learning classroom. As the Personalized Learning Lead Teacher at the school, her colleagues often look to her for advice on best practices. In addition to Zearn, students also use Agilix to access specific learning tasks, including fact fluency and other differentiated assignments. DreamBox and face-to-face lessons with Heidi are major components as well. She’s found that there’s no “perfect blend” of digital resources, but has struck a good balance of tools based on the data provided and the student feedback she’s received.
This year, Heidi and her colleagues implemented a STEAM design challenge focused on the coastal erosion that’s taking place in 3 different locations in Rhode Island. Students designed models to combat erosion, tested them out, and measured the erosion rates before and after implementation. Based on those results, they undertook a redesign process before presenting their findings. In planning their presentations, students were asked to bear in mind the needs and mindsets of different stakeholders affected by the changing coastline, i.e., property owners vs. their neighbors. Jamestown students came out to visit The Compass School twice to be the authentic audience for the presentations and to give Compass students feedback in the form of “2 stars and 1 wish.”
Heidi hopes this collaboration will continue into next year, and is advocating for alternative energy as the STEAM focus area. Just as with her problem-based math lessons, Heidi shared that “students and teachers are really enjoying the place-based projects.” Our state offers a wealth of ecosystems, policy scenarios, and design opportunities, which makes it an ideal location for this type of learning.
On a beautiful May day, it was hard to ignore the amount of new things happening outside on the Compass campus. Just a few weeks earlier, students and families had completed the third in a series of workshops to create a brand new farm. In partnership with Main Street Resources, the Compass team built seating areas and raised hexagonal beds for planting. They plan to sell the vegetables they grow at a farm stand this summer and fall. They’ll also host “Farm Camp” this summer. Other outdoor additions include a biodiversity garden for pollinator plants built in collaboration with the RI Wild Plant Society, and a “Gazebrary” (that is, gazebo + library) that was heavily lobbied for by the Student Voice & Choice team. Compass hopes that educators and community members across the state take the chance to visit. Teachers from DelSesto Middle School in Providence joined others at the VIP Strand of the Eco-Fair to learn about Compass’s new RI School Garden Resource Center.
You can take a look at the Farm Transformation here!
Life After Fuse
Networking and professional learning were two major selling points of the Fuse Fellowship for Heidi. Through her participation, she has been able to clarify her professional goals, delve deeper into the work of blended and personalized learning, and push innovation in her context. She has built relationships across schools and districts that persist today, and has continued to forge new connections. This year, she is taking part in the RI Learning Champions initiative through the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Great Schools Partnership and the Cross-LEA Open Education Resources Working Group.
Heidi has been able to continue her participation in the Fuse program in the 2016-2017 school year, this time from the partner district perspective. The Compass School is a Cohort 3 Fuse Partner District, and Heidi has acted as the point-person to the Fuse Fellows supporting the school. She has also been instrumental in crafting Compass’ application for the Lighthouse School Grant from the Rhode Island Office of Innovation. As of this writing, the Compass team is a finalist for the grant.
When I asked what Fuse meant to her, Heidi said: “Compass is in a great place because of connections I’ve been able to make through Fuse. Becoming a Fuse Fellow was the best decision I ever made for my professional life.”
Written By: Maeve Murray