Innovation is key to improving the quality of education in Arkansas communities. Promising areas of innovation for Arkansas schools have emerged from ForwARd’s work throughout the state.
Community Schools and Support Outside the Classroom
To meet the challenges poverty creates in children’s lives beyond the classroom, additional student and family supports are needed. The community school model provides such supports through community partnerships. A community school provides both the familiar K-12 curriculum and a broader range of supports to students and families — high-quality academic instruction, and mentoring, health care, college and career counseling, financial advising, and much more.
Community schools are distinct in that they have a site coordinator (sometimes called a community school director or site manager), who works with the principal, school staff, partners, and the broader leadership team to manage the process of identifying needs, locating resources, implementing programs, and assessing their impact.
Community and School Leadership
ForwARd works with districts and communities to strengthen local resources to lead schools. Recruiting and retaining experienced, talented district and school leaders can be challenging. By supporting new leadership with additional training, we work to decrease start-up time for new leaders. Training efforts also include working with community members to build the skills needed to serve on school boards or in local organizations. We also work with stakeholder groups to increase community support and strenghten partnerships with local schools.
Arts integration is the process whereby students learn academic subject matter by participating in and demonstrating their learning through an art form. Arkansas has a strong arts ecosystem including institutions such as the University of Arkansas School of Art and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
ForwARd Arkansas is working with one of our ForwARd school districts to implement a full-scale arts integration program in multiple schools by means of partnerships with such institutions. When the model is fully developed, we will expand it to other districts across the state.
Integrating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) into curriculum develops college and career-ready skills students need to be employable. STEAM forms a set of access points for student inquiry and critical thinking. Cutting-edge technology and maker spaces are part of the environment for project-based, collaborative learning in all subjects. ForwARd is working with partner school districts to advance STEAM curriculum and identify partnerships and resources needed to expand student access to technologies and equipment.
Agriculture Science and Sustainability
Today’s agriculture and sustainability science requires more technology and environmental skills than required in many of Arkansas’s current high school “ag” programs. If students are to be considered career-ready, they must begin learning modern and sustainable processes needed to ensure both food safety and adequate food supplies. Students also must be able to adapt agriculture practices to meet the demands of modern markets such as organic food production. ForwARd will work to expand existing programming in agriculture science and develop new learning opportunities where modern agriculture practices and programs are limited.
Arkansas schools must focus on making all students, including those who plan on pursuing a college degree, “employable” or career-ready. This includes the development of in-demand technical skills that align with hiring needs, as well as life skills, such as communication, collaboration and leadership. We are working with our partner school districts to expand existing efforts and support policy that enables stronger school and employer connections.
Rural, High-Poverty Needs Study
In spring 2019, ForwARd began a study of the unique needs of rural, high-poverty school districts. This work addresses long-term needs that are currently not being met with existing education systems. The work is founded on a strong data and research literature base. Successful rural, high-poverty schools across the country will be explored. Most importantly, Arkansas families, students, community stakeholders and school leaders from rural, high-poverty school districts will be surveyed for input on strategies for change and assets available to meet their needs.