A team of Clinton School students are working with ForwARd Arkansas, a public-private sector partnership built by the Arkansas State Board of Education, Walton Family Foundation and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation to enhance equity and improve student achievement. The Clinton School students are assisting ForwARd with its implementation of project-based learning in the Little Rock School District.
This is the second straight year that a Clinton School team has worked with ForwARd. Last year, the school’s team assisted the organization as it began exploring the idea of project-based learning, conducting best-practices research on existing school-community partnership models across the United States. That research helped craft a partner engagement structure for each LRSD school.
“Last year, it was really just trying to figure out what project-based learning was,” said Thurman Green, a policy and engagement associate at ForwARd. “They developed a toolkit to show people how you would implement it based on where you are along the timeline of project-based learning development.”
This year’s team of Andrew Counce (Memphis, Tenn.), Johnisha Graham (Lake Village, Ark.), and Jordan Sanders (Little Rock, Ark.) has narrowed the focus to two Little Rock middle schools – Dunbar Magnet and Henderson – and has spent the year observing their implementation of project-based learning.
“They have been able to see how a business organization can really work side by side with a school district on getting this up and running,” Green said.
Partnering with Heifer International, the Dunbar project uses community gardens and access to fresh, importable foods as a lens to view global poverty. At Henderson, a partnership with West Central Community Center provides students with an outlet to become engaged in public service in the form of a radio show.
“They were really excited,” Sanders said of the students at Dunbar and Henderson. “It’s been incredible how they visualize this stuff and to see the impact it has had.”
Sanders said the team held focus groups and conducted interviews with teachers and students because “we wanted to make sure their voices were being heard.” Two questions they asked: Are you learning anything? Is this classroom style better?
“We got to learn more from the teachers this semester about how their PBLTs are collaborating with each other and seeing their vision come to life,” Sanders said. “One student highlighted how she had gained so much confidence because now she is a talk show hostess and how she has learned to respect other people’s opinions.”
In April, the team will present a checklist for schools and partners to build and maintain a successful partnership. The checklist will include recommendations on the number of hours per week and the number of meetings per year partners should expect.
“This year’s deliverable shows how to implement, or provides recommendations,” Green said. “There’s a partnership on paper, but here’s how you, one, really help the business understand what they need to do from a partners perspective, but also show the schools, here’s how you create a space so the organization feels invited to come in and work alongside you.”