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Personalized Pathways

All of Madison’s major higher education institutions are now signed on to take part in the Madison School District’s “Personalized Pathways” initiative set to begin this fall.

UW-Madison and Edgewood College officials announced their participation Monday, joining Madison Area Technical College as anchor partners in the program, which is aimed at helping high school students explore college and career options sooner and in a more deliberate way. Students in the initiative will supplement their learning through themed curriculum developed for the chosen pathway, along with projects and other activities mixed with their regular coursework.

The idea behind Pathways is to tie students’ coursework to their personal interests and the larger world through a program of “rigorous interconnected courses and experiences,” district officials said, while still meeting all state standards for graduation.

The first cohort of 518 Madison eighth-graders — including 479 accepted into the available spaces and 39 on a waiting list — will begin the program’s first designated pathway, in health services, during their freshman years at East, La Follette, Memorial and West high schools.

Meet-and-greet sessions for the program enrollees at the high schools they will attend were to begin Monday night at West, followed by Memorial students on Wednesday night and students who will attend East and La Follette on the night of May 11.

In a statement, district superintendent Jennifer Cheatham thanked UW-Madison and Edgewood for joining MATC in offering to help support the pathways effort, adding the program “will both help more students graduate from high schools and better prepare all students for their future.”

Edgewood College president Scott Flanagan said the program fits with the college’s “core values” of “partnership and community,” while UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said it would help Madison students “discern their academic passions” and explore their post-high school options — “goals we wholeheartedly embrace and are excited to be a part of.”

Ensuring such early career and college exploration for students who may only want to pursue a two-year college degree is key as well, MATC president Jack Daniels said.

The Pathways students will make up about 28 percent of the incoming freshman class for the 2017-18 school year. More students will have a chance to join additional pathways in subsequent years as they’re developed — although the district has opted to delay creating a second planned pathway in fall 2018 as was originally planned.

The health services pathway will continue on pace, officials have said, with the first cohort becoming sophomores at that time and a new cohort of freshmen starting.

But a second pathway focused on some other theme will not start in fall 2018, secondary schools chief Alex Fralin has said, to give program planners more time to be sure the first pathway is proceeding as planned. Eventually, as many as four to six pathways could be offered.

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Karen Rivedal is the education beat reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.