By: Laura Jackson

Growing up in Rhode Island, I always had a healthy amount of local pride. I spent my summers swimming in Narragansett Bay and drinking Del’s Lemonade and my teenage years traipsing up and down Thayer Street, near Brown University and RISD. But when I became an educator, I had the mistaken belief that I had to leave Rhode Island to find where the really interesting work was happening. That belief led me to teach in public, private, and charter schools in Boston and New York City, experiences that shaped my beliefs about what excellent education ought–and ought not–to look like. My professional quest to do something important eventually led me back here to Rhode Island. And I’m so glad it did because, as it turns out, it’s all happening here.

Rhode Island schools are recognizing the potential of new educational models and responding more and more to the interests of their students and families. In my role at Highlander Institute, I am fortunate to get a window into some of the most exciting classrooms in the state. In addition to doing the hard work to create a more personalized experience for their students, these teachers and schools have also taken on the responsibility of sharing their lessons learned with other educators, including at this year’s Blended & Personalized Learning Conference, which will be held April 4th-6th in Providence, RI.

Practitioner experts will include Robin Ryan from Central Elementary School in Lincoln, whose third graders are setting goals, collaborating, and taking on leadership roles. And Amy Richards from Tiverton Middle School who works with her co-teacher to offer hybrid flex/station model that delivers on the promise of differentiation and rigor for all kids. We have schools like Asa Messer Elementary in Providence and Orlo Avenue School in East Providence, where personalized learning is not the exception but the rule. And Dutemple Elementary in Cranston, which is in the middle of a school-wide, multi-year initiative to pivot toward personalization.

The conference begins at noon on Thursday, April 4th with a new program offering we’re calling Partner Open Houses. Attendees are invited to get out and explore downtown Providence to visit and learn about many of the non-profits, schools, and community organizations that contribute to the personalized learning ecosystem in Rhode Island, including Diversity Talks, Confianza, The Center for Leadership and Educational Equity,  BIG NAZO Space Transformation Studio, and more. That afternoon, we’ll host the EdtechRI Pitchfest at the beautiful Pavilion at Grace, where edtech startups pitch their products and seek feedback in the hopes of qualifying for Saturday’s Shark Tank grand prize.

On Friday, participants can choose one of five full-day workshops. We’re hosting site visits to seven Rhode Island schools, working toward scaling personalized practices. The Acceleration through Networks workshop for advanced practitioners will include deep discussions around how to tackle curriculum, teacher training, and social-emotional learning in personalized models. There is also a Culturally Responsive Curriculum design track and an introduction to the Pathways to Personalization framework for school change. Lastly, there is a spotlight on the Providence Public School District, which includes visits to a PPSD elementary, middle, and high school, and an afternoon debrief where district representatives will tell their story of becoming a learning organization that’s embracing personalization. After a full day of learning, attendees can relax, network, and play arcade games at the BPLC Welcome Party, hosted this year at Free Play Bar & Arcade.

The Saturday Symposium is the main event, with over 50 sessions facilitated by thoughtful practitioners from all over the country–including Getting Smart’s own Tom Vander Ark as he asks  “Is AI the most important thing happening on planet earth?” We’ll have live classroom simulations by the teachers profiled above, a vendor expo with dozens of curated edtech products, and a Practice Playground, where you can get hands-on support with your specific problem of practice from Highlander Institute’s experienced Fuse RI Fellows. The day will end with a Project Based Learning Showcase, App Smackdown, and an EdTech Shark Tank before we tap the keg for one last celebration and networking opportunity.

As a mother of young children and a member of a lean non-profit organization, there are few things I appreciate more than an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. The BPLC is, perhaps, my favorite example of this. This event allows us to enrich our local education ecosystem by bringing national thought leaders to our city AND to show off all of the amazing work happening in our little corner of the country. I hope you’ll join us to see why Highlander Institute is so proud to call Rhode Island home.

For more, see:

Laura Jackson is the Program Director at the Highlander Institute in Providence, RI. Share your thoughts and insights with Laura by tweeting @l_jack2.


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