Capt. Isaac Paine Elementary leads the way in personalized learning

Capt. Isaac Paine Elementary leads the way in personalized learning

Principal of Capt. Isaac Paine Elementary School in Foster, Kristen Danusis, stands in front of the school’s building blocks to success. The school is one of three in Rhode Island to receive a $200,000 grant toward implementing personalized learning. (Breeze photo by Jackie Roman)

FOSTER – Principal Kristen Danusis says her kindergarten class is going to be competing against kids globally and robots.

“I need to prepare them for that,” she said.

Though Danusis is principal at a small elementary school in the smallest state, she encourages everyone at Capt. Isaac Paine Elementary School to think big.

“If I don’t make them globally competitive, I’m not doing my job,” she said. “We are almost doing them a disservice if we don’t continue to build on our skills.”

As a Highlander Institute fellow and an active member of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals (RIASP), Danusis says she is always searching for innovative methods to improve outcomes for all learners. Securing a $200,000 grant from the Rhode Island Office of Innovation and RIASP to implement school-wide personalized learning programs is another step toward achieving that goal.

“It was a huge honor,” Danusis said of the grant. “This staff has worked really, really hard to prove we can do this.”

Capt. Isaac Paine Elementary School was chosen along with two other schools in the state, out of 30 applicants, to receive the funding and act as a “lighthouse” to guide other Rhode Island schools toward personalized learning.

Danusis said that the school will use the funding to build on programs it has already developed and create new personalized learning programs, too.

The school first began to look at personalized learning, aided by technology, approximately three years ago. The principal referred to this as “blended learning” which is a combination of new wave technology and quality teaching practices, “which are irreplaceable,” Danusis pointed out.

Teachers at the school use data to determine individual student’s skills and also complete daily skill assessments, Danusis said, to create “flexible groupings” because “personalized learning doesn’t always mean working alone.”

The school also uses the software program i-Ready three times a year to pinpoint areas of improvement in reading and mathematics. The software assists teachers in monitoring whether a student is on track to achieving end-of-year goals.

Because of the grant, Danusis said the school will be able to implement “mastery based progressions” in grades K-5, all housed electronically. This means that each classroom will have a definition of what “mastery” of a certain subject means and each student will be tracked to determine their level of mastery and pinpoint areas of improvement. Teachers will be able to adjust a student’s learning objectives online using the application Buzz.

Thanks to the grant, several teachers at Isaac Paine Elementary will also receive design thinking training through Bryant University. Design thinking is a methodology used to solve complex problems and create desired, tangible, outcomes.

“Then these teachers will be able to train the rest of the staff,” Danusis said.

Students at the school will also be creating portfolios including their goals, interests, and previous work. The portfolios will be housed on Google Slides and “showcase work that the students are proud of.”

Danusis said that although it seems premature for elementary students to have a portfolio, she wants to impress upon them “how important it is to leave a positive digital footprint.”

At the end of the day, Danusis said these advancements will not only improve the quality of education for students, but it will also create a better school experience.

“Our kids are really happy to come to school here, and we have to build upon the things that they love doing,” Danusis said.