Home Page

Jackson Avenue Gets Personal

Jackson Avenue Elementary School bases its approach to learning largely on the ability of its students to be in control of themselves – control of their feelings, their minds, and their education. Students as young as four, in Transitional Kindergarten (TK), are encouraged to set their own goals and take ownership of their education in order to realize them. Jackson Avenue has been able to roll out this personalized learning approach through a grant from the Silicon Schools Fund, along with a partnership with DonorsChoose, which allocates funds to Bay Area schools that foster innovation and personalization. The school was recently given the additional funding and freedom to expand across its entire site. Personalized learning at Jackson Avenue focuses on student agency, from what they want to concentrate on in their classwork to how they sit in class. This educational strategy goes hand in hand with the school’s overall philosophy of mindfulness that Principal Shari Johnston has brought to the school. “We are all different learners,” said Johnston. “The teachers and students create a goal together so students have ownership over their education.” Personalized learning aligns with California standards, and students at Jackson Avenue are assessed with the same standardized tests as their peers; in addition, teachers are able to refer to the data from these assessments in the context of each student’s personal goal. Practicing mindfulness requires that students learn to regulate themselves; to be conscious of their feelings and how their bodies and minds are affecting one another. They learn breathing exercises, and some have practiced yoga as a way to learn to control themselves. Even the routine norms about seating are given over to student discretion. Because personalized learning calls for student agency, students must also be conscious of where and how they sit while they learn. To that end, they choose which seats they think will be best for their learning and after some time they reflect on how the seating arrangement worked for them or did not. Some students learn better if they sit up high in stools, others prefer sitting on a carpet, and there are those who need a little room to wiggle while they work. “Personalized learning embodies the collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication that the District prioritizes in education,” said Johnston. Students are thoughtful in the paths they take when they pursue a strength and passion, as well as in their needs for improvement. This dovetails with Jackson Avenue’s effort to instill a growth mindset in its students - that they would see their intelligence as growing and evolving. In this way, Johnston said, personalized learning is about “motivating students to keep going.” Johnston wants her students to ask more questions about everything. As an example, she shared how a group of girls who chose to read a book about girls’ education around the world did not simply finish the book and move on. It lit their minds up with possibilities and they went on to start a fundraiser to support global education. “We like to recognize students who go beyond,” said Johnston. “Students who show that what you learn at school doesn’t stop there; you take it with you.” With personalized learning, and practice, students can learn to focus on what makes their minds special and contribute truly extraordinary things to the world.