Lesson #2: Building Community Partnerships in Ashdown

In the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of spending significant time in schools with educators, students, families, and community and business partners who are transforming learning for their students.

These schools and districts are changing the game in Arkansas!

They are doing it by drawing on their community and business partnerships, as well as the needs, strengths, and interests of their students, families, and community. Keep reading to learn how these schools are putting students at the center and walk away with some inspirational, practical, and locally-tested ideas for your school. I encourage you to take a look at lesson one, Lesson #1: Texarkana Arkansas School District Project-Based Student Expo, from my previous blog, and stay tuned for another school highlight next month! 

OIE and ADE meet with teachers, students, community college representative, high school and district administration, parents, and school board members.

“We want our students to leave Ashdown with a sense of success for their future.” 

– AHS School of Innovation Application

Ashdown High School (AHS), a school on the path to designation as an “Arkansas School of Innovation,” is committed to making an impact within and outside of their high school walls. Ashdown’s innovation application emphasized the school’s commitment to their students, “we want our students to leave Ashdown [High School] with a sense of success for their future.”

As a district, this commitment is strategically linked to the district’s mission. Ashdown has recently been on a mission to increase partnership and connection within their community, both locally and regionally, and their motto is “Building Bridges To Success For Children”. The school and district are increasing student access to community, careers, technical education, and college in a variety of ways and bridging partnerships in their community as a result!

As a learning design and innovation leader for the Office of Innovation for Education I have been supporting Ashdown as they work toward School of Innovation designation. I’ve had the opportunity to work, travel, and learn with high school principal Kay York, Ashdown students, teachers, and administrators. Their community invited other educators in to learn with them during the Arkansas Student-Focused Study Tours during March, 2019, and will continue to share their learning at our 2019 Summit. I highly encourage you to continue reading, and if you get the chance to meet Kay, ask her what they are working on at AHS!

Giving back with Mission Texarkana

Mission Texarkana is a non-profit organization supporting residents in and near Texarkana by providing daily meals, food pantry items, vocational assistance, and ministry. They recently teamed up with Ashdown High School for a special project. Ashdown educators understand the importance of learning that extends beyond the classroom and supports the community. After meeting in focus groups and hearing from Director Cody Howard of Mission Texarkana, AHS students decided to create sleeping mats out of thousands of recycled plastic bags, for people in their community living outside or in tents, without homes. The mats are incredibly durable and provide a barrier for sleeping. The group worked on the mats with their teacher, Alicia McCormack, during their free time during the 2018-2019 school year and delivered 10 handmade mats to the Mission in March. In addition to their service, the students learned that they can have an impact on their community, and increased their awareness of the needs and experiences of others.

“I learned I could help somebody by doing something small and how that made me feel I want to make others feel,” she said. “I felt for them and it made me want to get it done so they’d have what they need.” 

-Ramiah Williams a Junior at Ashdown High School, was a part of the AHS and Mission Texarkana partnership project to create durable sleeping mats for people without homes in the region, during the 2018-2019 school year. 

Local Business = Future Opportunities

One example of how the high school is working with local business to offer future opportunities for graduates is the Domtar, Inc. and AHS partnership. Domtar, Inc provides over 800 jobs in the Ashdown area. As a business partner with the district, Domtar, Inc. provides grants for books and has a history as a district supporter. More recently they provide internships and career conferences to educate students on opportunities in manufacturing.

At the annual Youth Manufacturing Conference, students hear from local manufacturing leaders about careers in manufacturing, both through technical training and on the job training, and through college pathways. Additionally, industry leaders serve on the district’s planning committee, and have been supporters of the high school’s Innovation plan to increase access and exposure to career and college pathways for students.

Career and Job Training Exposure = Experience and Certifications

Students at Ashdown High School working in the school Coffee Shop, Serenity Cafe.

Offering career and technical education, as well as career exposure in the local community and in the region, are top priorities for Ashdown. High school students access an increasing variety of opportunities, and work with advisers (and as of the 2019-2020 a career coach), to create personal pathways. Some options include:

  • Technical certifications with The Lockesburg Industrial Maintenance Institute (LIMI) at the University of Arkansas Cossatot 
  • MASH or Medical Applications of Science for Health, a statewide program offered regionally by UAMS and several partners
  • The Arkansas Department of Education’s Teacher Cadet Program
  • A very successful Microsoft Credentialing program
  • Computer Science Curriculum emphasizing programming through the support of innovative teacher Stephanie Ringgold, the Margaret Daniels Education Foundation, and local alumni Dr. Tom Fomby
  • CNA certifications obtained on campus through UA Cossatot (Ashdown High School is the first high school to partner with UA Cossatot to offer a nursing assistant training program to high school seniors)
  • An active JAG program, that is well-supported by the community
  • School level projects that provide training opportunities, such as the AHS Coffee Cafe