ForwARd Arkansas and Little Rock School District: Innovation for the Future

Throughout 2016 and 2017, ForwARd Arkansas (ForwARd), Little Rock School District (LRSD) and community stakeholders such as Think Big Little Rock began imagining Project-Based Learning (PBL) at the middle school level and how PBL models could increase student engagement and improve academic outcomes in LRSD middle schools. As a result, ForwARd drafted and submitted a Practicum Project proposal to the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in Spring 2017, and, upon the project being selected, ForwARd agreed to serve as supervisor of a practicum team that would research best practices from across the country for implementing PBL in middle schools.

Over the course of two years, PBL has caught the attention of key stakeholders in Arkansas such as middle school administrators, the Little Rock Zoo, and, of course, students. The focus of PBL is to provide students opportunities to maximize knowledge acquired in the classroom and apply it to real-life situations. This inevitably positions LRSD students to be marketable in a growing, global community.

During the 2017-2018 school year, the Clinton School practicum team created a PBL implementation toolkit for use by all eight LRSD middle schools. Through this ambitious goal, we discovered that each of the eight middle schools were at different levels of implementation of PBL based on the toolkit created by the practicum team.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, ForwARd was selected to oversee another practicum team from the Clinton School. This year’s project focused on two middle schools, Dunbar Magnet and Henderson. These two schools were chosen due to having a community partner already identified and project concepts in place. As the team visited with both middle schools, they noticed differences in how PBL was being implemented. Dunbar and Heifer International have partnered to use community gardens and access to fresh, importable foods as a lens to view global poverty. Henderson and West Central Community Center’s partnership encourages public service in their community using the radio station—KWCP Community Radio at LPFM 98.9—housed at the Community Center.

The outcome of the Practicum Project was a creation of a “Partner Checklist”. This checklist enables middle schools and community partners to ensure appropriate progress is made to implement PBL in their curriculum. Components of the “Partner Checklist” are:

  1. Communication
  2. Ability to Attend Trainings
  3. Shared Calendar Creation
  4. Obtainable PBL Question
  5. Partner Resource Assessment
  6. All Hands-on Deck
  7. Investment in Student Success

“The partnership with ForwARd Arkansas and the Clinton School has been a huge asset to the Little Rock School District,” said Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore. “Our target was to create real, relevant learning opportunities for our middle school students by utilizing community partners to share and then support the execution of real projects.  These projects were not just busy work but actual projects that were being asked as a deliverable by our community partner.  Through the efforts of ForwARd and the Clinton School, we now have a blueprint of how to execute this instructional delivery.  The impact has been very positive, and we have high levels of student engagement in year one of the delivery. This project is not only the right work for LRSD middle schools but also a guide for how other middle schools can increase student engagement, involve community partners in meaningful ways that support their own mission, and ultimately to impact achievement of students involved.”

Both schools and community entities will benefit from this “Partner Checklist” as it allows them to remain focused on long-term goals they agree on. ForwARd is proud to maintain a mutually-beneficial relationship with the Clinton School of Public Service through their practicum program.