A unique concept in middle school education was unveiled here Tuesday night to a standing ovation from parents, community leaders and educators.
The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service formally presented a four-year public service-based grades 5-8 curriculum to the Hope Public School District in a program at Hempstead Hall through a partnership with the HPSD. The project was researched and developed by a team of four Clinton School graduate students who have spent the past year working with HPSD, the Hope Academy of Public Service and community leaders in Hope.
Clinton School Dean J. L. “Skip” Rutherford III said the model is the first of its kind in the nation.
“Middle school is a tough age; it’s tough all over the world,” Rutherford told some 60 attendees. “This model, the HAPS model, has the potential to inspire students in a way they haven’t been inspired before.”
Research developed in Hope by graduate students Zack Huffman, Caroline Dunlap, Andrew Trevino, and Crystal Mercer demonstrated both a community and educational basis of support for the concept.
“One of the most important groups we wanted to hear from is the students themselves,” Huffman, a former math teacher, said.
He said team research showed 54 percent of students at the HAPS campus consider themselves to be “hands on” learners.
He said that, while students exhibited an understandable lack of concept about public service, 52 percent believed the projects they have already completed will help them become closer to the local community.
Mercer said that the attitude of students toward the school itself was overwhelmingly positive, with 83 percent of students saying they were happy to be on the HAPS campus. She pointed out a reality of the rigor at HAPS by noting that 47 percent of the students liked the idea of more hands-on service projects be incorporated into the curriculum.
Trevino explained that team research shows a majority of teachers at HAPS, 57 percent, like the idea of a specific public service-based curriculum for the campus. He said 57 percent also agreed that the projects developed for students this year have helped academic success.
Dunlap noted that team research also reflects that 75 percent of the parents surveyed supported the idea of a public service-based academy such as HAPS.
The specific curriculum presented to the district Tuesday night integrates public service into a cross-curricular body of studies.
The fifth grade year is foundational, developing an understanding of the concept of public service, how it applies personally and within a local community. The sixth grade year is rooted in understanding the relationship between ethics and leadership, with an understanding of oneself and the how the student fits into the community fabric.
“With this, we wanted to help students move from ‘who am I’ to ‘who am I in my community,’” Huffman explained.
The seventh grade year is an exploration of the concept of social change and a development of a student’s social interests and how that is actively employed.
“Social change digs a little deeper into what those interests are and how the students can connect with organizations to begin the process of actively being involved in that change,” Mercer explained.
The eighth grade year is a “practicum” year where the foundational aspects learned to date are put into a functioning public service project within the community. The inclusion of a ninth grade class at HAPS in 2017-2018 will provide an opportunity for the “practicum” experience to be expanded to a collaboration with a second Clinton School graduate student team.
“We need you to be involved, and we need you to be engaged,” Trevino said. “Contrary to what some people might assume outside of this community, we have seen that this community is rich. It is rich in history, it is rich in resources, and it is rich with a commitment to see everyone succeed.
“President Bill Clinton said it best when he said, ‘I still believe in a place called Hope,’” Trevino said.
Numerous questions from the audience were fielded by the graduate student team, Rutherford, HAPS Principal Dr. Carol Ann Duke, and Hope Superintendent Bobby Hart.
Responding to an inquiry about problem-based learning, Huffman said the HAPS students are already addressing their education from that standpoint.
“They have not gone into it blind,” he said.
Mercer noted in a response to University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Chancellor Chris Thomason’s inquiry about students understanding the heritage of public service that already exists in Hope, that it will be an outgrowth of their studies.
“I think that is something that will develop as we go on,” she said. “We do hope to get them to understand the rich heritage they have in their community.”
Mercer said UAHT can provide a role in that understanding as the students grow academically toward college. Huffman agreed, noting that the community partnerships built with HAPS will help carry that understanding into the homes of students as their parents see business, industry and other organizations become involved.
The cross-curricular nature of the HAPS program was emphasized by Dr. Duke, who noted that the public service concept will become an embedded component within literature, language arts, math and science classes. And, Huffman emphasized that the curriculum is designed to fit into the requirements of the state “frameworks” for public education.
“This is meant to evolve,” he said. “This is the testing ground.”
Mercer said middle school students have the capacity to understand public service. She said she began volunteer work at the Central High School national site in her hometown of Little Rock at age 14.
“I met people from all over the world,” Mercer said. “I never would have gotten that experience sitting in class at my junior high school.”
The potential for the growth of the academy concept in Hope is a direct result of the growth of HAPS, the group said.
“This type of intervention at this age group changes the trajectory,” Huffman said. “The Hope school district has to make it your own.”
Hart said the HAPS model has been “the test kitchen” for the academy concept that can be expanded to other campuses in Hope with their own core interest.
The prospect for a second graduate student team to be assigned to HAPS next year will depend upon how the information gleaned from the first team is used, and whether it produces results, Huffman said.
Rutherford said he was moved by the graduate team’s work and the response to it.
“I’ve been to many presentations over the years, and I’ve never seen a standing ovation,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of encouragement and applause, but to see the people from Hope give our students a standing ovation was very inspiring.”
Rutherford said projects such as the HAPS collaboration require a significant trust factor.
“When you do these projects, you put a lot of faith in your students; but, also, in your community partners,” he said. “The results of this well exceeded the expectations.”