Putting students at the center of their own learning journeys
A free, charter public high school open to all Massachusetts students up to age 24.
Map Academy is founded on a belief that every student can succeed, and that for some students, the path toward success does not fit the traditional high school model. There is no such thing as an average student, and therefore, we should not design our education system for average.
Map Academy students find their way here for an array of reasons, often as a result of significant barriers in other school settings. For many students, Map provides a fresh start after having dropped out or becoming disengaged from previous high schools.
Our name was born at the beginning of our journey to bring a new school model to the Plymouth region. We could identify on a map each student who had dropped out of high school, enrolled in an alternative program, or who was at risk of doing either. In 2015, when Map Academy was an idea in search of a home, that map had 398 dots on it, dots representing real students, their families, and their hopes for a different pathway towards a diploma.
We had to do something.
As leaders of Alternative High School Program for Plymouth Public Schools, we saw the limitations and shortcomings of the traditional model and the available alternatives. These options serve many students well, but not all, so we set out to reimagine high school to meet the specific needs of students on the margins.
High School Reimagined
Map Academy recognizes that learning is not limited to the school day or the school walls, and therefore the high school experience should not be limited in those ways either. Map Academy is a school with a building and classrooms, but the learning experience flows within the space and outside the walls in ways that work for our students. Our model is founded on four key principles:
- Competency-Based – Students master skills or knowledge before moving on
- Highly-Supportive – Students get what they need to succeed
- Flexible Pathways – No one path to success looks the same
- Career Development – Students are ready for life after high school
If life gets in the way and students fall behind, they can pick up from where they left off. Students own their learning journey at Map, which means they are responsible for pacing themselves and their work in ways that meet their needs and abilities and in ways that keep them on track for graduation. This autonomy helps students chart their own paths to success while developing the self-directed skills that are necessary for life after high school.
Students at Map Academy earn a high school diploma. Consequently, they must meet all Massachusetts requirements for content knowledge through core academics and passing scores on MCAS exams. Unlike traditional schools, the transparency of the competency-based model means that students at Map Academy always know exactly where they stand on their journey toward graduation.
Students enter the doors of Map Academy carrying with them the complexities and burdens of their own lives and we understand that social-emotional needs must be met in order for academic learning to occur. At Map Academy, we believe all students can succeed. We provide high levels of wraparound support to ensure that success.
When students are absent unannounced, we reach out and check on them, even visiting their homes to ensure they do not fall off track. Students in need of counseling and other supports are connected with the help they need. Breakfast, lunch and snacks are provided free of charge for all students. The Map Academy facility even has a laundry room and a shower available for students who need them.
We work to keep students engaged until they begin making efficient progress and then keep supporting them to and through graduation. Instead of driving them away, we provide them with more support to keep them safe and engaged with school as they mature and develop resiliency, and their progress accelerates.
Progress is tracked through a learning management system accessible online by both students and staff. Every day, Academic Case Managers, support staff and teachers check in on progress, make sure students have what they need to succeed, and adjust those supports appropriately.
Students must feel nurtured by and connected to our staff and school so that they enter our doors with hope for their future and understand that it is within their power to achieve high levels of academic and personal success.
Map Academy’s mission is to make school work for its students. Flexibility varies depending on what stands between each student and success in school.
Asynchronous, blended learning is the instructional foundation of Map Academy’s personalized approach to high school. At Map Academy, students work in classrooms with teachers providing instruction and support, but they move through the curriculum at their own pace. Students enter the class, access the curriculum (often online) and begin working wherever they left off last. In this model, the teacher acts as an active facilitator, coach, and advisor, designing strategies and interventions suited to each student’s individual needs, such as one-on-one support or a mini-lesson to a subset of students. Students in the same classroom engage with the material in different ways and at different paces. This approach allows for students to receive differentiated instruction, more so than what is often possible in traditional classrooms.
Instead of being assigned to one teacher, students instead are members of Learning Studios where teams of teachers are available to work with students in a range of flexible spaces throughout the building. Every student has an Academic Case Manager who serves as a point person and guide, and also an individualized Success Plan, a living document that tracks their progress toward graduation and their post secondary plans. Students are empowered with flexibility and autonomy to move through the curriculum in ways that work for them.
A typical school day at Map Academy is 8:30 am until 3:00 pm, but this schedule does not work for all of the students all of the time. Built into the Map Academy model is flexibility with time and place, utilizing a school-issued laptop and online Tracker to interact with teachers, students can access class material and track progress from anywhere and at any time. In this way, learning at Map Academy is asynchronous, meaning that it is not linked to a fixed place and time. All students are expected to achieve specific standards and complete specific work, but these can be achieved at varying paces based on student interests, needs and goals.
Map Academy’s career development education component embeds career exploration and postsecondary planning into students’ individualized learning plans, motivating students to explore their postsecondary options and connect school learning to their lives beyond graduation. Practical career development opportunities allow students to apply their learning and hone career readiness skills, and dual enrollment, internships and/or career training opportunities will be available to students as they progress toward graduation.
We intentionally do not claim to prepare students for the “real world” because our students already live in the real world. For many, that “real world” is all too familiar as they juggle school with many other significant responsibilities and concerns. At Map Academy, we involve students in their own learning every step of the way, making education relevant, engaging and meaningful and preparing students to make informed decisions about life beyond high school.