National School Choice Week spotlighted education options

Last week, The Reform Alliance, a nonprofit focused on improving education in Arkansas, connected with students, schools and parents across the state in celebration of National School Choice Week.

Board Chair Laurie Lee, Communications Director DeAnn Thomas, Managing Director Emmy Henley and Education Policy Advisor Shane Fletcher handed out meals and NSCW swag bags.

The Reform Alliance shared “Miss Virginia,” a film about a single mother’s fight to get her son a quality education, during a Netflix Watch Party on Tuesday, Jan. 26. A drive-in movie showing of the film had to be canceled due to weather conditions, but the nonprofit handed out swag bags and free meals in a drive-through style event at MP Outdoor Cinema in Little Rock on Saturday, Jan. 30. The drive-in movie showing is being rescheduled.

On Thursday, Jan. 28, The Reform Alliance hosted a Virtual Town Hall with education experts Cara Candal, Corey DeAngelis, Sarah McKenzie, Cheri Stevenson and Jherrithan Dukes. The event streamed live on Facebook, and the video has received 1,316 views and reached 2,884 people.

The nonprofit also partnered with the Arkansas State Teachers Association to host an essay competition for students. Holland Sweeney from Bridge to Hope Academy won the $500 prize for education-related expenses for students in grades 4-6. Nathan Woollen from Barton Junior High won the $500 prize for students in grades 7-9. Marybeth Arnold from Southside High School won the $500 prize for students in grades 10-12.

In addition, The Reform Alliance awarded a $500 prize to Taraji Kiyumbi from the House of Opportunity microschool and a $500 prize to teachers at Compass Academy for participating in the #SchoolChoiceWeek Dance Challenge.

During the week, staff members also brought National School Choice Week swag bags to students at eStem Junior High, eStem Elementary, Lisa Elementary, The Grace School, Prism Education Center, Compass Academy, Friendship Aspire Academy in Pine Bluff, Hannah School and Arkansas Christian Academy.

“We loved shining a spotlight on the education options available for K-12 students in Arkansas,” Managing Director Emmy Henley said. “We encourage everyone to continue to work together to ensure that every student has equal access to a quality education.”



Expert panel will discuss education in Arkansas

Education experts will share information about different models of education, school choice programs and upcoming legislation during The Reform Alliance’s free Virtual Town Hall from 7:30 p.m to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28. The event will be streamed live on The Reform Alliance’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/arreformalliance).
Cara Candall, director of education opportunity at ExcelinEd, will moderate the event. A former classroom teacher, Candall has spent the last 10 years working in education policy as a senior fellow with both Pioneer Institute and the Center for Education Reform. She has a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies.
The following individuals will be panelists:
  • Corey DeAngelis is the director of school choice at Reason Foundation, the executive director at Educational Freedom Institute and an adjunct scholar at Cato Institute. He holds a doctorate in education policy.
  • Jherrithan Dukes is principal of Friendship Aspire Academy Public Charter School in Pine Bluff. He holds a master’s degree in educational administration. Prior to his work at Friendship Aspire, he taught in the Little Rock School District and served as assistant principal at eStem Public Charter Schools in Little Rock.
  • Sarah McKenzie is the executive director of the Office for Education Policy and an assistant research professor in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. She holds a doctorate in educational statistics and research methods.
  • Cheri Stevenson is the director of academy and adult services at ACCESS®, a nonprofit in Little Rock providing evaluations, therapy services, full-time education, vocational training, community integration, mental health services and more for individuals with special needs. She has a master’s degree in communication disorders.
“The moderator and panelists have a wealth of knowledge about different facets of education,” said Emmy Henley, managing director for The Reform Alliance. “They all share a common passion, though: helping students reach their fullest potential.”
Attendees can submit questions to the panelists via direct message on Facebook or via email to info@thereformalliance.org.
The Reform Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring every K-12 student in Arkansas has equal access to a world-class education. The Reform Alliance is proud to manage the Succeed Scholarship at no cost to the State of Arkansas. Even small expenses like the cost of mailing checks to schools are paid for by a private foundation grant. Free educational resources and more information about The Reform Alliance are available at thereformalliance.org.


Virtual events, drive-in movie and drive-thru events lined up for #SchoolChoiceWeek

The cars have changed, and technology has improved over the years, but MP Outdoor Cinema in Little Rock brings back memories of pink Cadillacs, poodle skirts and “Singing in the Rain.”

It’s also the perfect place to celebrate National School Choice Week during a pandemic. The Reform Alliance is hosting a free showing of the movie “Miss Virginia” at the MP Outdoor Cinema at 6700 Allied Way in Little Rock at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30.

The Reform Alliance is hosting a showing of "Miss Virginia" at MP Outdoor Cinema, shown in this image. The drive-in setting with socially distanced cars creates a safe environment for people to watch the movie together. “Miss Virginia” is based on the true story of a single mother who challenges the system in an effort to ensure her son gets a good education.

“It’s the perfect way to conclude National School Choice Week,” said Valerie Pruitt, community engagement advocate at The Reform Alliance. “We’re still practicing safe social distancing protocols, but we get to get out, enjoy a movie and learn more about educational opportunities in Arkansas.”

National School Choice Week kicks off Jan. 25 with a dance challenge to the song “Start Your Day Right Here” by Analog and Steve Celi. The Reform Alliance will share videos of the choreography and invites the public to share videos of themselves performing the dance to compete for social media recognition and a TRA Swag Bag. Anyone can enter by posting the video and tagging @arreformalliance on TikTok or The Reform Alliance on Facebook by Sunday, Jan. 31. The winners will be announced Wednesday, Feb. 3.

In partnership with the Arkansas State Teachers Association, The Reform Alliance will also be engaging students in the celebration with an essay competition during National School Choice Week, and winners will be announced on Facebook.

The festivities continue at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26, with a Netflix watch party of “Miss Virginia” so that viewers from anywhere in the state  (or beyond) can chat and share thoughts about the film in a virtual environment. In order to participate, individuals must have a Netflix account.

Another virtual event – a town hall discussion – will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27. Subject matter experts will lead a discussion about the different education options available to students in Arkansas: public schools (including charter and magnet schools), private schools, microschools, homeschools and virtual schools. Attendees can join the discussion via Zoom, and it will be available to watch on The Reform Alliance’s Facebook page as well.

“At its core, National School Choice Week is about letting families know what educational options are available, so we are really looking forward to the town hall discussion,” said Emmy Henley, managing director at The Reform Alliance. “Our panelists can help families identify the possibilities with each option.”

 

On Friday, Jan. 29,  everyone is invited to wear yellow to celebrate National School Choice Week and share photos on social media with #SchoolChoiceWeek and #SchoolChoiceforAR.

These events and activities in Arkansas are just a few of the available activities going on nationwide.

“For everyone in our country, School Choice Week is a chance to have a conversation about why every student deserves a great education,” Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, said in a video explaining the event. “There’s something for everyone during School Choice Week, and that’s why there are tens of thousands of activities and events.”


Nonprofit applauds efforts to help low-income families find learning solutions during pandemic

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Dec. 29, 2020) – The Reform Alliance, a nonprofit focused on improving education in Arkansas, announced its support for the executive order authorizing the use of the federal grant money to boost education efforts during the pandemic.

On Monday, Dec. 28, President Donald Trump signed the executive order giving states the option to use Community Service Block Grant funding to provide emergency learning scholarships for students. The scholarships would cover the costs for low-income students without access to in-person learning through traditional means to use alternative learning options, like attending in-person classes at a private or religious school, joining a learning pod, homeschooling or using private tutoring or education services.

The executive order is a positive step toward securing equal access to learning at a time when low-income students are at risk for falling further behind, according to Emmy Henley, managing director for The Reform Alliance.

“It’s important for students to have access to a learning environment where they can thrive, and virtual learning does not suit everyone, ” Henley said. “The emergency learning scholarships could help Arkansas students find the instruction method that fits them best so that they can continue learning even during the pandemic.”

Click here to read the executive order. 

The Reform Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring every K-12 student in Arkansas has equal access to a world-class education. The Reform Alliance is proud to manage the Succeed Scholarship at no cost to the State of Arkansas. Even small expenses like the cost of mailing checks to schools are paid for by a private foundation grant. Free educational resources and more information about The Reform Alliance are available at thereformalliance.org.

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Microschool launch changes lives

While most students enjoyed a movie break during the Christmas party, one student at Lighthouse Homeschooling Cooperative chose to return to her computer to do extra math problems. Lighthouse had recently implemented the Prenda microschool learning model, so this student knew she was in charge of her education … and she wasn’t going to waste a minute.

A child choosing extra classwork over a movie may seem pretty unusual in itself, but what made the moment even more extraordinary was that only a couple weeks before, this same student had been resistant to schoolwork. She had been in a self-contained classroom for behavioral issues for years in a public school. By the time she arrived at Lighthouse, she had all but given up on education, and even her first few weeks at Lighthouse were pretty rocky.

The situation changed when Lighthouse’s learning guides, Amanda and Jeremy Escue, started using the Prenda learning model and educational tools.

“We gave her the reigns, and now she is taking off,” Amanda Escue said. “Now, she is seeking more learning; she wants to do more.”

The Escues lead one of the Prenda microschools being launched in Arkansas through efforts of The Reform Alliance. A microschool is an alternative method of learning where small groups study with a trained learning guide, usually at the guide’s home, a church or other similar environment.

Prenda, the organization that developed the microschool model, emphasizes creating a flexible learning environment where students are empowered to make decisions about their education.

“It’s really amazing to see how a child begins to thrive when you give him or her an educational environment that fits their needs,” said Emmy Henley, managing director of The Reform Alliance. “The model, whether it be public school, private school, microschool or other option, needs to fit the kid, rather than trying to fit the kid to the model.”

The Reform Alliance has provided scholarships through a privately funded grant to establish 10 microschools in the state. The scholarships were awarded to low-income students who qualified for free or reduced lunches.

About 30 people attended Arkansas Prendacon on Dec. 2.

On Dec. 2, the organization brought together about 30 learning guides, parents and others interested in learning more about microschools at Arkansas Prendacon, an all-day event designed to help them make personal connections with representatives from Prenda.

Some microschools, like Lighthouse, have already launched, and others will start in January. Henley said they have already been receiving feedback from the families that have started using Prenda.

“Families are already seeing improvement,” Henley said. “Each child has an individualized learning path, and we are already seeing kids become more engaged.”

This was the case with the student at Lighthouse, whose name is being withheld for privacy purposes. Lighthouse has been operating as a cooperative homeschooling option for children with autism for about four years. Amanda Escue said they have felt alone in their efforts, so they were really excited when they got connected with Prenda and with other like-minded families at Prendacon.

“It was very encouraging to see so many people across the state that have a burden for educational options for children in Arkansas and to see a unified movement growing here,” she said.

The Escues learned a lot from Prenda’s training, but they are also benefiting from the educational tools, like Dreambox, Lexia and Treasure Hunt.

“Prenda really makes it possible for someone to jump right in,” Amanda Escue said. “We have struggled to come up with solutions on our own over the years, but Prenda has already laid the groundwork. The technology has really helped with classroom logistics.”

After attending Prendacon, the Escues started blending in Prenda’s learning model and technology on Dec. 7, and they have already been seeing heartening results.

“We have been watching lives being changed,” Amanda Escue said.


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