ADE Blog Post
Decisions, Decisions: Tips on How to Choose the Right College for You
You’ve thought long and hard about it and have come to the conclusion that you want to go to college. But where should you go? What is the best college or university to attend? Should you apply to a two- or four-year institution? How do you make a final decision?
If those questions fill you with unease or anxiety, please know this is a completely valid response. Not everyone immediately knows exactlywhat career or degree program they want to pursue, let alone where to seek the education that will lead them further on the path toward their goals. Deciding on the perfect college for you will take some research and personal reflection time.
The first question is, how do you learn about what institutions are available? Of course, you could Google the degree you are interested in that is available near your ideal location, but there are additional resources you can use to help you find the perfect school. Are you interested in remaining in-state for the next stage of your educational path? The Arkansas Division of Higher Education maintains a webpage that lists all Arkansas public and private colleges and universities at https://sams.adhe.edu/Institutions.
The U.S. Department of Education also has a neat tool on its website called the College Scorecard: https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/. With the College Scorecard, students can learn about and compare different institutions to help them make an informed decision about where to go based on the available fields of study, costs, admission requirements, post-graduation results, and much more!
If you are still unsure about your degree path but perhaps have an idea of the type of career you would like to attain but want more personal assistance than a web search, don’t forget that you have a great resource in your high school counselors and career coaches. They are there to help you succeed and may know of resources you haven’t considered yet. They are also great resources for navigating the world of financial aid applications.
Additionally, you could also reach out to professionals in the field that you are interested in pursuing. For instance, suppose you wanted to specialize as a pulmonologist. You could research pulmonologists across the country and see if their educational background is listed on their medical center's website or reach out to them directly to see if they have time to discuss their chosen academic route and whether they wish they had done anything differently.
After all, when making a decision this big, it is crucial to consider all of the pros and cons of the institutions being considered, as well as the route you want to be able to take while attending college. However, you may be asking yourself how you are supposed to know the pros and cons. Though your list will need to be individualized to your needs, we have a few suggestions for you to consider.
Location, Location, Location!
One important thing to consider when picking a college is where the school is located. You may feel the need to stick close to the area where your family lives. This could be for economic, emotional, or other reasons, so that may make you want to limit your college search to a particular mileage from your hometown. However, for some students, the opposite is true, and they either feel comfortable leaving the state to pursue an education, or that may be a personal requirement when picking a school. Alternatively, you may prefer attending a college that offers online or hybrid degree programs, especially if you need flexible options to find a good balance for school if you are already working or taking care of your family.
Then, of course, there is the question of cost. How much are you willing or able to afford to spend on college tuition, fees, and supplies? Will you be living on-campus, or do you need to plan to pay for rent, utilities, groceries, and other such bills? Further, what types of financial aid would you have available to you? Your ability to attend certain schools may depend on whether you can receive institution- or department-level scholarships, in addition to state and federal aid or other private options.
Check out the list below for some examples of reputable financial aid websites. And remember, you should never pay for a scholarship search. So, if they start asking you for money, leave that site immediately.
- State Financial Aid (sams.adhe.edu)
- Federal Student Aid (fafsa.gov)
- College/University Financial Aid Offices
- Business/Organization Scholarships
- Fund My Future (www.fundmyfuture.info)
- Fast Web (www.fastweb.com)
- Unigo (www.scholarshipexperts.com)
You should also consider how many other students may be in your classes. Some students prefer a smaller class size to have a more personalized experience with their professors or avoid crowded situations. Other students may enjoy a larger class size to expand the number of classmates they have to study and network with.
Degree Programs Offered
If you already know what type of degree you want to earn, it is important that you find a college that meets those needs. However, it's possible you don’t know the degree you are seeking yet. In this case, it may be more important to you to find a college that allows you to dabble in various subjects before committing to a major. You’ll also need to decide how long you want or need to devote to higher education studies. Is a technical certificate or certificate of proficiency more your style, or do you want to earn an associate, bachelor’s, or a higher degree? If you aren’t sure if you want a four-year degree, remember that you could start off in a two-year community college and transfer to a four-year institution later.
Extracurricular Activities/Campus Life
Your college years aren’t just for going to class and completing assignments; you want to have extracurricular fun too! It may be important to you to find a school that offers special interest clubs or is located near businesses, churches, or local parks that allow you to have some relaxation time and strengthen your relationships with your friends and classmates outside the classroom walls.
How You Feel
The most important consideration is how the college or university makes you feel when you consider attending there. The last thing you want is to be miserable about the school you choose to attend. It is easy for your negative thoughts to direct your educational success. If you aren’t thrilled at the idea of attending a particular school, those negative thoughts could later seep into your coursework and lead to future frustrations.
So, hop onto those computers or mobile devices and start researching your dream college today. Talk with college admissions office teams and go on campus tours. Ask the questions that are important to you and see how you feel. If you start feeling a little giddy at the possibility of earning your degree at a particular school and it meets your specific needs, don’t be scared to submit that application.
College is for everyone. You just need to determine the path that will lead to the future of your dreams.
Completing The FAFSA: The First Step to Higher Education
As babies, when we learn to walk, we work to meet various milestones, like discovering how to sit up, crawl, and pull ourselves to a standing position. Then there was that crucial first step, the step that pulled the next foot forward, propelling us into a new world of discovery and accomplishment. With each new experience, another first step keeps us navigating the path toward our future.
When high school students decide to go to college, there is a crucial first step they need to take to help them seek financial aid, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. This form is administered by the U.S. Department of Education and helps students learn what types of federal funding they are eligible for, such as federal grants, work-study, and loans.
But the FAFSA is so much more than federal student aid; completing the FAFSA can also be an essential part of applying for state or college/university financial aid. The Arkansas Division of Higher Education believes so strongly in the importance of the FAFSA that students interested in applying for state scholarships will find that completing this form is an application requirement. Plus, regardless of whether a student has been accepted to a particular institution, the colleges or universities (up to 10) listed on a student’s FAFSA will automatically receive the results electronically for ease of creating financial aid packages should the time come.
What makes the FAFSA even better is, just like its name implies, the process is absolutely FREE! So not only does the FAFSA help get you money, it costs you nothing but time. But, since the U.S. Department of Education began simplifying the FAFSA, it takes less time to complete than ever! Especially with things like the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that will transfer income tax information over for you to the form!
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your computers, tablets, or phones, and head on over to fafsa.gov to learn more about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply today!
Into the Unknown: A Letter to First-Time College Students
Whether you started school this week or last week, you know that the beginning of school is such an exciting time. There are new people to meet, new things to learn, and fresh experiences to have every day! However, this time of year can also be a rather stressful one, especially for students who are taking the leap from a K-12 education to a college one.
I can remember what it was like when I started college. There was a bubbling pot of emotion churning in my stomach. On the one hand, I was excited to continue my education, to personalize it in a way that prepared me for the life I wanted to live after graduation. But on the other hand, I was an internalized, anxious mess. This was going to be the first time I would ever be living away from my parents. These people had been my constants in the ever-changing world I grew up in as a military-connected child. On top of that, I am an introvert at heart. Meeting new people and making friends can take a lot of energy out of an introverted person, and I’ve never really been sure about the absolute best way to take that first step into socializing with new people. But as with everything in life, we experience, we learn, and we grow.
Whatever feelings you are having right now about being a first-time college student are valid. It is great if you only feel those positive emotions about the first week of school. But it’s equally okay if you are feeling a little trepidation. Everyone’s brains are unique and handle new experiences differently. This blog won’t cover every tip and suggestion for coping in these types of new situations but will provide a few ideas that you can try to ease your mental load.
First things first, remember to breathe. When we are feeling anxious, sometimes all we need to do is to regulate our breathing to get our body to calm itself. SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has a great explanation of some mini-relaxation exercises you can practice, which only take 1-3 minutes: https://bit.ly/SAMHSA_RelaxationTips. By doing these, or related breathing exercises, you are working on switching the focus of your mind from what makes you anxious to the rate and depth of your breathing. These exercises also help lower your pulse rate, which can also help you feel calmer.
Once you know your class schedule, you can also set yourself a routine for self-care, studying, and socialization. This will help you ensure that you have space during your day for fun things in addition to your schoolwork. Self-care behaviors like exercise, healthy eating/drinking habits, and good sleep hygiene are incredibly important. These behaviors can assist you in being able to regulate your mood as well as coping with your stressors. However, if you occasionally find it necessary to step out of your routine for a day, don’t worry too much about it; you can work to reestablish the routine the next day.
In an article in the Harvard Health Blog (https://bit.ly/HHB_CollegeAnxiety), LeBlanc and Marques also suggest that you approach and not avoid your stressors. This may be a harder tactic to try for many people, but it certainly has the potential to be helpful. As mentioned in the blog, some people worry about how to make friends in college and subsequentially can find themselves feeling rather lonely and isolated. To approach this anxiety, you can try introducing yourself to someone in the cafeteria or dorm lobby. Another option is to seek extracurricular clubs that focus on activities or topics that interest you, and you can meet like-minded people. Do those options seem too stressful for you? Try simply smiling at someone in greeting instead. Sometimes the best friendships find their beginnings in the upward turn of someone’s mouth.
Most importantly, don’t forget that you are not alone. In addition to friends and family, you can also reach out to resources found across your college campus. Don’t be scared to reach out to your professors if you have concerns about your course or your RA (resident assistant) for dorm life concerns. You can also speak with your academic advisors and find tutors, writing labs, and other study supports. There are also college mental health professionals you can talk with about your anxieties and career services to help you learn how to prepare for a life beyond college.
While some stressors are an inevitable part of life, we can learn the best ways for our brains to cope with them. Take a little while to consider your current concerns and how you can best alleviate those concerns. This is a new situation, and it will be a little different for a minute, but soon you will be able to find ways to make yourself feel at home while succeeding and thriving during this adventure we call college.
A New Year & New Life with the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative
The new year is just around the corner. Now is the time of year when many people start thinking about the changes they will resolve to make, starting when the clock strikes midnight on January 1. Sometimes these changes are seemingly small, like reading one book a month, keeping a journal, or trying a new restaurant. Other changes are larger, such as having a baby, changing jobs, or paying off a credit card every month. But all changes, big or small, can have an everlasting and significant impact on the route your life takes.
Why not resolve to give yourself and your family a new life by expanding your education and gaining the knowledge you need to travel the path toward your career goals? There are so many options available for those who wish to learn in terms of being able to afford an education. However, today, let’s focus our attention on one of the options that are available to parents, the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative or CPI.
First, a little background is in order. CPI began in 2005 and has continued to grow since then. Now, the initiative is a statewide network of 25 college locations! The Arkansas Department of Human Services and Arkansas Division of Workforce Services provide TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funding, and the Arkansas Division of Higher Education further supports the program.
With CPI, parents can expand their career possibilities and skillsets with training from an Arkansas community college. At its core, CPI’s goal is to help parents end their dependence on government benefits by promoting education, job preparation, and employment. Not only that, but CPI has incredible wrap-around support for its students, making all the difference in student success rates! Check out this list of just a few of the potential services that the CPI team may provide for eligible parents.
Educational Expense Assistance
- Books & Other Course-Required Materials
- Certification & Other Fees
- Success Incentives
Guidance & Counseling
- Career Guidance
- Connection to Community Resources
- Academic Advising
- Work-Study Opportunities
- Connection to Employers
- Case Management Services
That sounds AMAZING, right? But who specifically is eligible for this program? To be eligible for CPI, you must be a parent or adult caretaker of a child who resides in the home who is under the age of 21, AND you must receive services under the following programs: TEA (Transitional Employment Assistance); SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); Medicaid, or ArKids. However, if you do not qualify for the programs mentioned above but have a household income of less than 250% of the federal poverty level, you may still qualify for CPI services!
So, what are you waiting for? Classes start in January, so head to www.arpathways.com to pre-apply for the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative or contact your local community college TODAY! Remember, if you choose to travel this path to a brighter future through higher education, the CPI team will be there to support you throughout your journey.
Arkansas College Application Month: College is for Everyone
What is college? Does going to college strictly mean that you are working toward a bachelor’s degree? NO! While earning a bachelor’s degree and higher are valid educational paths, we cannot forget the other equally valid and valuable routes. Any education you receive after high school is college!
Let’s say that together now. ANY education you receive after high school IS college!
For some Arkansans, college means seeking technical certificates or certificates of proficiency in areas such as welding, computer coding, HVAC, dental hygiene, nursing, or truck driving to enhance their career-related knowledge. Some people will seek an associate degree in early childhood education, culinary arts, criminal justice, or aviation maintenance. Other students may wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a program like wildlife science, sociology, emergency management, or graphic design.
The options for your college journey are endless. No matter your career dreams, it is highly likely that you will find a post-secondary option that will benefit you. The best part? You don’t even have to leave the state! Schools around Arkansas are proud to offer a wide selection of program areas, some of which are even available 100% online.
October is Arkansas College Application Month, and now is the perfect time to start making your plans for the future. Close your eyes and visualize yourself at work in your dream career. What do you see yourself doing? Next, do some research into what it would take for you to reach that goal.
Did you have trouble visualizing a career? Not everyone knows where they want their life to take them after high school, and that’s okay! Some people have had their hearts set on a certain career since they were little, others discover their passion in high school, and some are inspired by later events in their life. The wonderful thing about post-secondary education is the opportunity to learn more about yourself. You will get to experience the subjects that interest you firsthand. You will be exposed to new ideas, people, and experiences. With that knowledge and experience, you can shape your future in any way that you want.
Your school counselors and career coaches are great resources, so be sure to reach out to them for additional assistance. Several schools around Arkansas have signed up to participate in events to help their students apply for college and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Check out this website to see if your school is on the list: https://dese.ade.arkansas.gov/Offices/learning-services/guidance-and-school-counseling/arkansas-college-application-month.
Also, visit the Arkansas Division of Higher Education’s website and check out their list of colleges and universities around the state to see which offer the program(s) you would like to pursue: https://www.adhe.edu/locations.
Steer Clear of the Gap Year
How long after graduating high school or receiving their GED should students wait to begin their post-secondary adventure? Not long at all! ADHE suggests that students plan to start their post-secondary career in the school year immediately after receiving a diploma.
We can probably all agree that the past couple of years have been different, to say the least, and in some cases, extremely stressful. For some high school seniors, the idea of taking a break in the form of a gap year may be at the forefront of their minds. However, there are several reasons for students to steer clear of the gap year.
Some say that gap year means traveling the world and finding adventure. That sounds exciting, but have you considered the expense of those trips? Others argue that students can use a gap year to get a starter job to gain experience and maturity, but that also detours students away from the ability to earn a higher income after receiving a college education.
On top of this, students will lose the momentum they built up during their final years at high school, not to mention the brain drain. A gap year does just that; it puts another year between what a student learned in high school and what they are expected to know in college. We often hear about the dangers of the summer slide, when students risk losing learning progress over the summer if they do not remain engaged in learning. Taking a gap year would basically be the equivalent of four summers in a row! Just imagine the potential learning loss which could occur during that time.
The lack of financial aid a student may have received as a traditional college student, coupled with tuition increases, loss of momentum, and a longer time before earning higher pay, may lead to a student never getting their degree or other post-secondary education. In an article published by Inside Higher Ed, it is suggested that students who do not immediately go to college after high school are 64% less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than those that do. These non-traditional students are also 18% less likely to obtain any college credential than their traditional peers.
We understand. The cost of attending a college or university can seem slightly daunting at first. But that is where financial aid plays a vital role.
One of the first things you should do when looking for financial aid is filling out the FAFSA. Filling out the FAFSA can help knock down financial barriers to gaining a post-secondary education. This form is not only used to determine eligibility for federal grants and loans but is also used to determine eligibility for various financial aids through states or institutions of higher education.
Check out the below list of a few reputable resources you can use to begin your search for financial aid.
- Arkansas Division of Higher Education (YOUniversal): https://scholarships.adhe.edu/
- Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): https://fafsa.ed.gov/
- Colleges/Universities Financial Aid Programs
- Fund My Future: https://asla.info/College-Planning-Services
- Fast Web: https://www.fastweb.com/
- Unigo: https://www.unigo.com/scholarships
Just remember, you should never have to pay for a scholarship search. If you have questions about the legitimacy of a scholarship website, please feel free to contact the ADHE financial aid team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, the Arkansas Student Loan Authority publishes an excellent booklet each year, “How to Pay for College: A Guide for Arkansas Students.” This booklet is filled to the brim with suggestions for locating financial aid and saving for college and provides checklists for students to keep track of their progress. The booklet is available in both English and Spanish: https://asla.info/Request-Materials.
Everyone can benefit from attending college. Whether you plan to pursue a technical, apprenticeship, or certification program, or an associate degree or higher, ANY education you receive after high school IS college!
Remember: You have a purpose. You have a future. You have what it takes. You’re going to do something amazing, and the Arkansas Department of Education is proud to offer you our support.
College Savings Month
Have you heard that Governor Asa Hutchinson has proclaimed the month of September as College Savings Month? He encourages all Arkansas citizens to recognize the benefits of attaining higher education and to begin saving for their children’s educations.
You may be wondering when is the best time to start saving for your child to go to college, and the answer is RIGHT NOW! It is no secret that post-secondary education has its cost; however, you can take steps to ease the future financial load. Even if your child was only born yesterday, now is the right time to start saving. In fact, the younger your children are when you begin saving, the better.
But, you may be thinking, there is absolutely no way that you can afford to put away several hundreds of dollars each month. You have other immediate responsibilities to consider, such as rent, utilities, groceries, and other necessities. The good news is, even a small amount of money set aside each month will help in the end. For example, say you make a plan to save $50 per month for 18 years. By the time your child is college-age, you could have saved approximately $10,800, and that is without including any annual rates of return into the calculation.
Could you simply borrow the money once your child has a plan to attend college? Yes, borrowing money is a very valid option for families. However, remember that, in most cases, you will have to pay that money back with interest. The more money you are able to save upfront, the less the financial burden to your family.
Are you interested in saving money for college? One option available to you is opening an Arkansas 529 GIFT Plan account. 529 plans were created to assist families in saving money for college, which can be used at institutions across the country and some international institutions. There are several account options, and you don’t have to break the bank to set up your plan. Want to learn more? Visit the Arkansas 529 GIFT Plan website at www.arkansas529.org.
It is never too early or too late to save money for your child’s college education. Every dollar saved is an investment in your child’s future.
Importance of Internships: By Christine Nichols
As a graduate student who has interned for two different organizations, I am a big supporter of internships. While I was an undergrad, I worked part-time in the food service industry to pay bills. As I approached my senior year, I began to wonder how I would transition from a manual labor position to an office job. With no professional experience, I felt that my opportunities would be limited even with a Bachelor’s degree in hand.
So, I set out to get an internship. After perfecting my résumé and reading up on how to ace an interview, I was offered a marketing intern position with a local bank. This internship was my first glimpse at office work and life. I attended team meetings, completed both familiar (through class assignments) and unfamiliar tasks, learned about my co-workers’ responsibilities, and developed a deeper understanding of my own abilities, talents, and interests. This experience taught me that I much prefer analyzing data and identifying solutions to problems over sending emails and creating social media posts. This realization led me to graduate school to pursue an MPA degree.
Now I am interning with the Arkansas Division of Higher Education through the MyARInternship program. The program has introduced me to many facets of state government and encouraged me to rethink and raise my ambitions. While I have always loved education, I hadn’t given much thought to the idea that I could support education in a role other than teacher. Being involved in some of the administrative tasks at ADHE has opened my eyes to a potential career path in education administration.
Another huge benefit to participating in an internship is the ability to learn what it means to perform in certain positions and how others have obtained success in their chosen fields. When I was introduced to the ADHE team, I took note of the positions I found particularly interesting. I set up meetings with the people in those positions and learned about their day-to-day responsibilities and career path.
Through these meetings, I discovered that, although data analysis was interesting to me, data collection was not. Positions can seem more complex and interesting than they really are. I also confirmed my suspected fascination with program management and budgets. Finally, I learned the different paths ADHE employees had taken to reach their current positions. It was especially interesting to hear about the differences between working at universities and working at a state agency.
Both of my internship experiences have helped me narrow down the career paths I may pursue. I have worked with many different types of people in an office setting and navigated the unique specificities of each organization. My co-workers and supervisors are now a part of my network. When I graduate with my MPA degree, I know the people I’ve met will inform me of job opportunities and praise my work when potential employers call. The knowledge and experience I’ve gained can be applied to any future job I may have since each specific task involved typical workplace skill sets – critical thinking, professionalism, communication, time management, Outlook, etc.
If you would like to learn more about the MyARInternship program and how to apply, visit https://arcareers.arkansas.gov/content/MyARInternship/.
Helping Dreams Become Reality
There is great power in words. Words can both build a person up or tear them down. The term, impossible, has damaged many a young person’s dreams. These students may have been sure of their dream career until someone in their life, sometimes even the student themselves, convinced them that their goals were impossible. But this writer doesn’t believe in impossibilities.
With the addition of an apostrophe and a space, "impossible" becomes "I'm possible." Two seemingly minor changes turn a negative into a positive. Possible is what all of your dreams are. Your dreams are valid and important. Your desire to see your life’s vision fulfilled is possible. But just as with switching the word, impossible, to something more meaningful, there are steps and paths along the way you need to take to reach your goals.
One of the paths you can take toward your dream career is to earn a college degree. The cost of attending a college or university may seem daunting at first. But it is important to remember that you and your family do not have to finance your education without assistance. From scholarships to grants to loans, there are many possible options to help fund your future. However, there is one step on your path toward higher education that you should not forget because it opens the door to many of these financial aid options.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) does just as the name implies. This form helps students apply for financial aid for college or graduate school. What makes this form even better? It is FREE for everyone to use, and you do not have to have been previously accepted to a college or university to apply! Filling out the FAFSA can help knockdown financial barriers to gaining a post-secondary or graduate degree.
This form is not only used to determine eligibility for federal grants and loans but is also used to determine eligibility for various financial aids through states or institutions of higher education. For instance, in Arkansas, the Arkansas Division of Higher Education requires the FAFSA to be completed for the Arkansas Academic Challenge (Lottery) Scholarship and the Arkansas Future (ArFuture) Grant. Many colleges and universities may also require the FAFSA to be completed to determine eligibility for financial aid options through the institutions.
Filling out the FAFSA may seem like such a minor step on your way to earning a degree. But remember, it only took two small steps to change “impossible” to “I’m possible.” Just imagine the major impact this single form can have on your ability to finance your education. You are possible. Your dreams are possible. Complete the FAFSA today and begin taking the steps to make your dreams a reality.
More information about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is available at https://studentaid.gov/. You can also reach out to your high school counselor or local institution of higher education if you require additional assistance understanding the FAFSA process.
Learning Doesn't Stop.
With school now entering its third week, I want to take a moment to say “thank you” to the students, teachers, parents, and administrators who have shown their commitment to education here in Arkansas. If you asked me six months ago if I ever thought we would find ourselves guiding an education system through a pandemic, I would have said it was highly unlikely. I did, however, know that if we were ever faced with challenges, our educators and students would rise to the occasion and they certainly have!
What COVID has taught us is that thinking outside the box is a necessity. We now have systems and best practices in place we never thought possible just six months ago. We have seen communities rally together with students’ best interests at the center, we’ve seen innovation take its rightful place at the forefront of education, and we’ve seen educators take multi-tasking to a whole new level.
With the help of additional data points now available through our partners at the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, schools now have access to up-to-date data to help them make decisions that not only allow them to continue providing an excellent education but also allow them to keep student safety the upmost goal and objective. This is data we did not have just a few weeks ago, much less six months ago when the pandemic hit. We’ve learned a lot these last six months, and we continue to learn as we move forward. That’s what education is all about, right?
While there is no doubt that COVID has dealt us a pretty big blow these last six months, we’ve remained united and have stared it directly in the eye. Learning did not stop this spring when school buildings closed, and this school year we are more than ready. Educators and students all around the state are going toe-to-toe with COVID each and every day, and no matter what may come, we stand committed to be there to support them every step of the way. Learning cannot stop; learning won’t stop. Our students and our future deserve and depend on it.
Secretary of Education
Despite the Emergency, All Still Means All
By Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key
We are no doubt living in unusual times. When the decision was made more than a month ago to close Arkansas public schools to on-site instruction through April 17, we were cautiously optimistic that onsite instruction would resume before the end of the school year. COVID-19, however, had other plans, and while the effects of the virus eventually diminished any hope of returning to school, our educators responded quickly to counter the negative learning impact the COVID-19 crisis would have on students.
It’s no surprise that Arkansas’s teachers have found innovative ways to continue the learning process. You don’t have to look far to see the evidence. Many educators are reaching out to their students and parents on a daily basis. Some are holding virtual classroom sessions so their students can stay connected with them and with each other. School counselors are actively engaging their students, especially their seniors to offer words of encouragement and share the latest scholarship opportunities available.
This creativity has also extended beyond the school building and into parking lots and buses. Not only are buses being used to deliver meals and education assignments, many schools are expanding internet access to buses and school parking lots to allow students who don’t have connectivity at home the opportunity to complete classwork while still upholding social distancing best practices. Other schools have refocused funds to quickly purchase additional technology devices so students who don’t have internet access at home can have access to online learning resources.
All of these efforts, plus many more, demonstrate what we have quickly come to know: School is much bigger than the four walls of a traditional classroom. Learning can and does occur anywhere students and teachers connect in creative, comprehensive, and engaging learning activities. In today’s world, that just happens to be through computer screens, cell phones, and yes, via old-fashioned paper and pencil. While it’s not ideal, it’s not wrong. As I’ve said before, we can’t let perfect become the enemy of good.
While it’s important to stress that learning has not stopped, it’s equally as important to emphasize that learning for ALL students, especially for those with special needs, continues despite present circumstances. No doubt our present situation has its fair share of challenges for all students, but our teachers are more committed than ever before to ensure all students have access to the educational services they need to succeed.
Our commitment to these educators and students has not wavered either. While now is a time for flexibility, our dedication to education remains strong and secure. At this time, the federal government has not waived any requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. All students, including the more than 76,000 students with disabilities, deserve a quality education, and we are working with schools to make sure that happens.
As schools continue remote learning, it is vital that they ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to education and support. IEPs remain in effect, and schools should, to the greatest extent possible, continue to provide the services identified in a student’s IEP. Schools are encouraged to consider ways to use distance learning and other alternative methods of instruction to meet their obligations to provide a free appropriate public education to students with 504 plans or Individualized Education Programs.
To help teachers and schools meet these objectives, the department has issued guidance and shared resources regarding special education instruction, which is available on the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education’s webpage: https://bit.ly/3a99scv. We also are staffing an Alternative Methods of Instruction hotline (1-833-353-6050) to answer AMI questions from districts, teachers, parents, and students.
While instruction through the rest of the school year is focused on core content, it also is essential that special education and general education teachers work together to ensure lessons are consistent and appropriately meet the needs of all students, no matter their current circumstances and access to technology.
This collaboration extends beyond the school level, though. Families and guardians play a critically important role in student learning on any given day, especially now and especially for students in need of special education services. The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education encourages all those responsible for the care and education of students to work together to build relationships that foster trust and wellbeing, then work together to ensure that educational expectations and goals turn into realities and accomplishments.
This also means that schools must make every effort possible to meet required timelines and hold IEP meetings virtually or by phone with parents to discuss student progress and determine appropriate education and services. This is critical, as it impacts the need for future supports to address potential learning loss during this time. When restrictions are lifted, schools and IEP teams should review student progress to determine whether or not adjustments are needed to the future education and services provided to students.
A month ago, I never thought we would live in a world where human contact is discouraged, school buildings would be closed, and a feeling of uncertainty would prevail. I always knew, however, that if the need arose, our educators would be ready for any situation. Not only did Arkansas’s educators refuse to hesitate, they quickly adjusted to the situation and made, as always, our students a top priority. There’s no doubt in my mind that together we will get through this and will be stronger than we were before. Together, we are overcoming challenges and exceeding expectations. Together, we ARE leading the nation in student-focused education.
G.U.I.D.E. for Life
All Arkansas students should graduate with a strong foundation of academic knowledge, experience, and proficiency. To be successful, students also need an equally strong foundation of soft skills – those intangible abilities that help people get along with others, communicate well, and make positive contributions in the workplace and beyond.
The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education has identified five guiding principles that support educators, business leaders, communities, and students in their efforts to help all Arkansans develop these critical skills. The principles represent skills needed to thrive at home, school, on the job, and in the community are: Growth (manage yourself), Understanding (know yourself), Interaction (build relationships), Decisions (make responsible choices), and Empathy (be aware of others).
The G.U.I.D.E. for Life program, with the support of Arkansas counselors and educators, is designed to give K-12 students a plan – a five-step process – that they can follow to achieve personal success. Each principle is summarized in easy-to-understand key words, with three action points to explain the idea. By incorporating the G.U.I.D.E. for Life concepts throughout the school experience, we can help instill these “real-world” skills for success in all Arkansas students. The result? Well-rounded citizens, stronger communities, and more effective employees.
I am a product of the days of only having three television stations to choose from, having to look up information in a card catalog, and having to memorize or look up someone’s phone number in a phone book, and then proceed to dial them up on a rotary phone. Am I dating myself? Don’t answer that. Today, kids live in a microwave society where technology provides instantaneous access to millions of sources of information with the click of a button. With so many options available, choices become more complex and students may often struggle to navigate the decision-making process.
Responsible decision making really is the epitome of every personal competency that we attempt to instill in our students. As we work to equip students with the tools they need to be successful both in and out of the classroom, responsible decision-making is one of the most vital and challenging of all. As educators, there are some simple things that we can do to help students become more confident, responsible decision makers:
- Model: Teachers make hundreds of decisions daily, none without impact. Taking the time to verbalize our thought processes to students during the course of the day, as well as recognizing and celebrating when students make good choices not only reinforces this important skill, but assists in creating a positive classroom culture.
- Embed: Good decision making is a personal competency that can be easily embedded into any lesson plan. By using your content area curriculum to highlight important decisions and how people in the lesson (literature, history, math) reach a conclusion, role-playing, and problem solving/decision making using the scientific method, you are offering relevant, real-world examples of positive decision making.
- Empower: Students generally fall somewhere on the spectrum of not making any decisions at all due to a lack of confidence or fear of making a wrong choice, impulsive decision-making that doesn’t consider consequences or situations, and responsible decision-making that evaluates how actions affect themselves and others. Regardless of where your students fall on the spectrum, remember mistakes are proof that they are trying. Creating an environment where students feel safe enough to fail because failure is how we learn gives your students the gift of confidence they need to become good decision makers.
A Matter of Life and Death
Tragically, America is in the midst of a national crisis with the growing Opioid Epidemic. While some may not see how this relates to school-age children, educators are in the trenches daily and experience the very real and tragic impact the crisis is having on students. “A new study from researchers at the Yale School of Medicine has given insight into the effect of the opioid epidemic on infants and school-aged children. The JAMA Network Open study found that the use of prescription and illicit opioids caused the deaths of almost 9,000 children and adolescents in the United States between 1999 and 2016. During the same time, the pediatric mortality rate from opioid poisoning increased more than twofold”, according to Michael Devitt of the American Association of Family Physicians.
At the same time, Carol Levine of STATnews.com, reports that on any given day teachers encounter students who are “at risk for accidental ingestion of toxic substances at home, living with addicted parents/caregivers and dealing with fear and anxiety, being removed from their homes and placed in foster care due to the ravages of addiction, experiencing the stress of having to become caregivers for siblings or addicted parents, as well as being exposed to toxic levels of stress that can impair brain development.” We must become passionate about equipping our children to make responsible, safe decisions - it truly is becoming more and more an issue of life and death.
Red Ribbon Week 2019: Send a Message. Stay Drug Free.
Red Ribbon Week (October 23-31, 2019) is the perfect opportunity for your school to have fun and emphasize the importance of making responsible choices in order to help Arkansas students to grow up safe, healthy, and drug-free. The theme for this year’s campaign is: Send a Message. Stay Drug Free.
I recently sent out the all-call for schools around our state to fill me in on how they were helping students make good decisions in regard to living a healthy, drug-free life in celebration of this national event. I was so impressed by the responses I received - talk about having a difficult time making a decision!!
Thank goodness there were no wrong choices to be made in this case. Every submission was fantastic - Arkansas teachers and schools are knocking it out of the park in meeting the needs of the whole child through providing student-focused education. Awesome job! Here are just a few of my favorites from the schools who responded to our survey:
The Academies of West Memphis - West Memphis, AR: The Academies of West Memphis Show Choir, under the direction of Amanda Daly, toured elementary schools in the district performing an anti-bullying Broadway-style production. If you haven’t seen the videos of their production numbers on social media, I encourage you to take the time to look them up! Such talented students using their gifts to raise awareness and create positive change - BRAVO!!
Carolyn Lewis Elementary School - Conway, AR: Mentors Empowered : Wampus Cat Leadership Team: High school student leaders will be working with the students in our school to model and encourage making good choices.
Centerpoint Elementary - Amity, AR: We created a community outreach video to promote drug free choices (even the governor participated)! We know that safe, healthy choices lead to a drug free life. Together we are working to make our children aware of the importance of making positive choices and the consequences of using drugs and alcohol. We are also focusing on the importance of choosing good friends and being a good friend.
Huntsville High School - Huntsville, AR: We have a group of students that work to raise community awareness in order to put an end to tobacco use. They are led by a local community group, the Madison County Health Coalition, and meet regularly. We are also putting together an ambassador program of student leaders that is planning Red Ribbon activities for the week of October 28. These activities include guest speakers, assemblies, drug take back day, and other ways of raising awareness of the dangers of drug and alcohol use.
Lake Hamilton School District - Hot Springs, AR: Our district wide Red Ribbon Spirit Week is called "The Greatest Show of Me is Drug Free" (circus theme). Over 2,000 students will take part in this pep rally that is the highlight of the year for most of our students. Our Red Ribbon Week activities make a huge impact because they start the conversation of the importance of being drug free. We publicize our drug free spirit week on a billboard in town, as well as all of our digital outlets (social media, web, school app, etc.). Prevention starts with conversations, and we hope that our drug free spirit week encourages parents to begin having these conversations with their children at home, just like we are having at school, on the reasons a student should choose to be drug free.
Russellville High School - Russellville, AR: Our Interact Club is sponsoring Red Ribbon Week. We will have a banner to sign, red balloons (Think It) to remind students that drugs are scary, wear red clothing, and many other things to promote drug awareness and a drug-free lifestyle.
Looking for a year-round prevention activity?
Plant the Promise is a wonderful way to celebrate Red Ribbon Week while incorporating G.U.I.D.E. for Life personal competencies. Students plant red flower bulbs in the Fall (INTERACTION: Collaboration) which bloom in the Spring, and serve as a reminder of the importance and the beauty of living a drug free life (DECISIONS: Make responsible choices). Additionally, it provides a chance to enjoy the outdoors, connect with nature, take a break from daily stress (UNDERSTANDING: Mindfulness) and see the rewards of something beautiful you’ve nurtured (GROWTH: Persevere). I can’t think of a more beautiful, sustainable way to celebrate and encourage making responsible, healthy choices.
Spotlight on Success - We Want to Hear from YOU!
Want to see YOUR school featured on our G.U.I.D.E. for Life Blog? Fill out the attached survey and let us know the innovative ways you are embedding G.U.I.D.E. for Life principles into your curriculum and school culture!
If you have questions or are in need of assistance regarding G.U.I.D.E. for Life implementation please fill out this form, and I will be happy to contact you. I am honored to provide leadership, support, and service as we work together to facilitate implementation of the G.U.I.D.E. for Life personal competencies that promote learning and success for all students in Arkansas.
For details, refer to G.U.I.D.E. for Life – 5 Skills for Personal Success.