STEMx is welcoming a new member — the Arkansas Public School Resource Center (APSRC). To find out more about the center, its accomplishments and future projects, we contacted Dr. Lisa W. Todd, director of education at the organization, based in Little Rock:

Q: Tell us about the Arkansas Public School Resource Center and its mission.
A: APSRC is a service-oriented, nonprofit membership organization that provides targeted technical assistance and training to support the development and advancement of charter and rural public schools across Arkansas.

The mission of APSRC is to improve public education by providing technical support and advocacy services to schools in the state with an emphasis on assisting charter schools and public schools in rural districts.

Since 2008, APSRC has been a leading nonprofit advocate for quality education in Arkansas by providing valuable technical assistance to schools across six critical subject areas: charter development, communications, financial analysis and management, legal services, technology and teaching and learning.

APSRC members receive access to specialized content and tools while benefiting from the guidance and assistance of a highly qualified and supportive APRSC staff.

Q: How do you promote STEM-related education through the center?
A: APRSC’s Education Department serves on the Arkansas committee of Advancing Coherent and Equitable Systems of Science Education and has brought together key stakeholders in the state to share ideas and advance the committee’s vision for STEM education in Arkansas.

Arkansas is one of 13 states selected to participate in this National Science Foundation grant aimed at creating equitable and coherent systems for advancing science education for all students. This project is a partnership among the Council of State Science Supervisors and researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Washington.

Our committee and the other participating states are creating a network to develop and test state-level strategies and tools for advancing systems of equitable science education. A primary goal has been to evaluate and better understand the role formative assessments can play in aligning curriculum, instruction and assessment.

In addition, APSRC has been working in partnership with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Computer Science Initiative to support programs that enhance STEM curriculum. One such program is Learning Blade, a supplemental online curriculum for middle and early high schools that is uniquely focused on increasing awareness and interest in STEM careers.

Through a grant, APRSC provided middle school students across the state with free access to the Learning Blade software. This was done as part of a statewide effort to increase student interest in computer science careers, as well as those in science, technology, engineering and math.

Learning Blade has been validated as a supplemental tool for increasing STEM career awareness and interest by Battelle Education.

As a further outgrowth of APSRC’s participation in the governor’s Computer Science Initiative, Facebook donated 500 virtual reality kits to a number of high-poverty schools in the state. The expressed intent of this special technology program was to increase exposure to, and interest in, technology and encourage students to consider technology careers.

To assist in the rollout of the program, APSRC’s Technology and Education Departments organized and provided professional development assistance to participating EAST Labs and technology teachers on how to best introduce and use these virtual reality kits. To further promote and maximize the impact of the program, APSRC showcased student-created work on the APSRC website and awarded student prizes for the most innovative VR content.

With this and other technology initiatives, APSRC participates and works closely with the Arkansas STEM Coalition.

Q: What would you consider the center’s major accomplishments, both STEM-related and otherwise?
A: APSRC played a critical role in bringing Summit Learning to Arkansas. Summit’s founder, Diane Tavenner, enlisted help from Facebook engineers to design a learning platform that generated tremendous success in turning around failing high-poverty schools in California. This personalized learning platform has been replicated in several states.

Arkansas has 13 Summit pilot schools, all APSRC members, that are implementing this exciting new initiative. Members of our APSRC education staff are being trained as certified Summit third-party partners so that we can provide needed technical support and intensive professional development to Summit personalized learning schools in the state.

APSRC is also playing a key role in expanding internet capacity for all schools in Arkansas and supporting programs such as Project Lead the Way.

Q: Why did APRSC want to join STEMx?
A: APSRC consistently strives to help our rural and charter schools keep abreast of cutting-edge technology and promising new opportunities for students. A significant factor in our choosing to join STEMx was the success we enjoyed through our initial collaboration with Learning Blade and the Arkansas STEM Coalition.

We felt that STEMx could help us build upon what we had developed through our productive partnership with these programs and assist us in expanding our overall portfolio of services in this important and rapidly evolving area of technology.

Q: What are your plans for future STEM promotion in Arkansas?
A: Our overall goal is to continue to encourage the expansion of internet capacity for students. More specifically, we are focused on increasing access to one-to-one devices for students, families and communities through their schools, and expanding the number of schools implementing Summit Learning.

Q: Does Arkansas pose unique challenges or have unique needs as far as STEM education is concerned?
A: As a rural state, Arkansas has long faced the challenge of delivering the same degree of high-quality education and instruction to all of its public schools, especially those located in more remote areas. In terms of internet access and technology, lack of sufficient bandwidth and overall connectivity has been a hindrance.

Fortunately, however, with the development of increasing bandwidth and connectivity in Arkansas, the barriers that once limited the use of technology in overcoming long-standing physical barriers to the free flow of communication and instruction have begun to fall. Access to technology is the great equalizer in providing educational services to a rural state such as Arkansas.

As such vital technology becomes more cost-effective and available to teachers and students, it provides increased access to the kinds of tools and technical assistance provided by APRSC and permits increasing access to one-to-one devices.

The highly innovative EAST Lab program, which originated in Arkansas more than 20 years ago, is expanding into middle and elementary schools. More public schools are placing smart technologies in every classroom, with many schools providing their students with one-to-one devices.

Technology is helping to open doors for rural students that were once closed. High-quality coursework and instructors that were once inaccessible are now available at the touch of a key or the click of a mouse. As technology increases accessibility and connectivity, the overall challenge remains as to how to successfully open up and make available these expanded educational opportunities to all school districts in Arkansas. (APSRC provides free access to Lynda.com, which offers 700 design courses, 600 software development courses and 700 web development courses.)

Q: What can the Arkansas Public School Resource Center share with other STEMx members that might help them meet challenges or establish new programs?

A: As defined by APSRC’s mission to advance public and charter education in the state, much of the center’s ability to effectuate change and improvement hinges on its ability to effectively collaborate and network with other creative and innovative entities. APRSC’s partnership with organizations such as STEMx provides unique opportunities to further expand our contribution to education and extend our networking activity across the globe.

For APRSC, as well as other STEMx members, the key to our effectiveness also rests on our ability to openly share ideas and take risks. Educators, businesses, parents and students all are trying so hard to be relevant and competitive and contribute to the enhancement of educational opportunities in Arkansas.

With the support of APSRC, the Summit pilot schools are re-envisioning education in Arkansas. It is exciting and a bit overwhelming. For our children’s sake, we must be prepared to grab a hand, hold our breath and take a heartfelt leap of faith into the future.

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