Edgemont School District earns REM grant

Photo by Garland Wright/Fall River County Herald-Star

Edgemont junior Cian Waite butchers a deer in the Food Science class, which is instructed by FFA Reacher Brady Joseph, who is pictured in front. This exercise is an example of the varied educational experiences that make up the customized learning currently available in the Edgemont School District. 


By Garland Wright

FRCHS Correspondent

EDGEMONT – In an ongoing effort to pursue ways to advance the educational experiences of their students, Edgemont School staff recently joined the Re-Imagining Remote Education in South Dakota Project. This project is the result of a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to the South Dakota Department of Education. Through this grant titled, Rethink K-12 Education Models or REM for short, the U.S. Department of Education granted the S.D. Department of Education a total of $6,883,481 to be used to support educators throughout the state in better serving students in all types of settings whether they be in person, online, or through blended learning. Over the course of this three-year grant teachers, administrators, and pre-service teachers will receive support in the form of professional development, participation in a REM Colloquium, and family engagement resources. 

Edgemont has been a Customized Learning school for over five years, so joining in the Re-Imagining Remote Education in South Dakota Project was an obvious choice for Superintendent Amy Ferley. 

“Being a part of this grant will afford us the opportunity to evaluate where we are in our customized learning journey,” Supt. Ferley stated. “We will be re-setting our goals for the skills we want Edgemont graduates to have when they leave us, and creating the best paths for individual learners to get there.”   Since Edgemont staff has completed a book study over the book, Inevitable, over five years ago, they have worked diligently to make learning in Edgemont more, for lack of a better word, customized.  One aspect of that means that students are met where they are in their learning, rather than trying to categorize students simply by age and grade. In doing so, students can move slower or faster in their learning journey according to their individual ability in each subject area.

When faced with the reality of moving students into individual learning paths, teachers must think innovatively to be able to anticipate the learning needs of their students regardless of where their students fall in their educational journey. While this is incredibly challenging work, Edgemont teachers have found help in their learning management system, Canvas, and the technology available in Edgemont Schools including laptops for every student, various tools for recording and broadcasting lessons, and interactive whiteboards with Zoom capabilities. The combination of both in-person teacher-led instruction and online instruction result in a distinct learning approach known as blended learning.

Through blended learning teachers can meet each student where they are developmentally resulting in a more successful and confident student. Coincidentally, Edgemont School District’s work to become a Customized Learning school prior to America’s entanglement with COVID-19 helped Edgemont navigate the sudden transition to distance learning during the height of shutdowns and quarantine mandates. When teachers were told to go to distance learning on a Friday afternoon, Edgemont was poised with the tools and knowledge to continue school on the following Monday. While other schools were running off large paper packets to be sent home, Edgemont teachers were able to hold daily Zoom meetings with students to continue face to face learning with their students, though virtual.

The REM grant further fuels the movement of Edgemont Schools towards a more customized and blended learning environment. During a recent conference for the Re-Thinking Education Colloquium, the Edgemont REM Leadership Team worked with other schools, outreach organizations, and the grant facilitators to devise a specialized plan of action for the Edgemont School District. The Edgemont REM Leadership team is made up of Superintendent Ferley and three Edgemont teachers; Pam Koller, Michelle VanEaton, and Garland Wright. While at the conference, the REM Team also had the opportunity to work individually with Dr. Kevin Lein, Assistant Professor of Education Leadership at Wayne State College and former Harrisburg High School Principal.  Dr. Lein pioneered the Customized Learning program in his former school and now works to assist other schools in doing so also. By the end of the conference, Dr. Lein and the Edgemont REM Leadership team had devised concrete next steps to bolster Edgemont’s Customized Learning efforts.

Though Edgemont Schools have made great strides in their Customized Learning initiatives, there is more work to be done, and their participation in the REM grant will further support those initiatives. The goal of both the grant and Edgemont schools is to consistently deliver high quality instruction that is competency based, knowledge rich, and fits the whole-child instructional approach. In doing so, Edgemont Schools hope to teach learners to thrive in the 21st Century environment.

This is incredibly challenging considering that most people are still thinking about school as an assembly line structure churning out graduates for an industrial nation that doesn’t function anymore as a primarily industrial society. The United States has already seen a wave of once American held jobs move overseas and now machinery and AI threaten to take more of the jobs away from Americans. So how does one prepare students for the inevitably changing economy, where countless jobs will be replaced by AI and machines? This is the question Edgemont educators continually ask themselves in their instruction. The answer lies in nurturing the skills that automation and AI cannot seem to master.  These skills include creativity, networking, cultural awareness, problem solving, citizenship, complex communication, community building, and emotional intelligence, among others. While it is impossible to anticipate entirely what the future economy will look like for America’s current students, Edgemont schools will continue to do the hard work necessary to meet their learners’ needs today and their needs well into the future. Edgemont Schools’ participation in the REM grant is just one of the many ways they are trying to meet these needs, and ultimately to move their students to become self-sufficient, well adjusted, employed adults.

Fall River County Herald Star

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