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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