Savanna Buckner: What makes LISA Academy unique?
Krystle Hula, dean of students at LISA Chenal: What sets us apart is probably, from a teacher’s point of view, that we have more leeway. We create our curriculum. We get together each year, we review curriculum. We don’t just use textbooks. We figure out how we can use the good pieces of the textbooks, but then pull in other pieces. Our teachers have the input. It doesn’t come from the district down. Teachers come together in the summer and say, “This is what worked great, this is what we need to work on, this is the piece that we need more resources for.”
Savanna: You are a STEM school. How is that incorporated into your curriculum?
Krystle: We’re trying to raise awareness for STEM within the community and build more pupils that are ready to get college degrees geared towards science, technology, engineering, and math. At Chenal, we’ve tried to incorporate the arts as well, so we’ve shifted to calling it STEAM. Our art teacher even tries to incorporate different things within her classroom so that kids are getting a taste of things involving math, science, and engineering. We have our STEM Festival. We have science fairs all the way down to our K-2 babies.
Jessica Wright, principal at LISA Chenal: I really love the focus on girls in STEM. We’ve had several different awards, clubs, and programs and I have seen so many female students light up when they’re given those opportunities and really excel. The middle school Olympiad team last year won an award for being the highest-ranking majority female team in the state. That is amazing and serves those girls very well with whatever they want to do in the future.
Savanna: LISA Academy organizes the annual Arkansas STEM Festival. Can you tell me more about that?
Suzanne Rogers, director of professional development and ELA coach: As a STEM focused school, we wanted to help the state meet its need. We wanted to have a bigger impact based on our mission and vision statement. So, we made a statewide competition. We’ve had over 3,000 kids there each year, which gets the whole state excited about it. As a rural state, it’s important that we produce students who can work at the level needed by new companies. New companies need to come into our state knowing that they have a career force ready and able. So, that was part of why we created the STEM Fest.
Krystle: LISA Academy organizes the entire thing. The invite goes out across the state for multiple schools to come. Each year we have a theme and kids get to create different projects that they bring and put on display. We’re pretty proud of it. The kids get to do some really cool things.
Savanna: What are some ways you engage parents in your school community?
Krystle: The Jaguar Paws Program is awesome. Gentleman in the family or close to the family can come in and work within the building with our kiddos. They volunteer their time. We do a Parent Academy where we bring in parents on the weekend and have all kinds of little classes that they can choose to attend. We provide free childcare while they do it. We do things like parent barbecues and fall festivals. Here at the LISA Chenal elementary school, the fall festival is a fantastic event. It’s a safe place for our families to come in the fall and the kids get to roam, play games, get candy and all that. Parents really value having a safe place for that to happen. We highly encourage parents to volunteer and try to communicate as much as possible. We’ve got a high ESL population so we’re trying every single year to grow in how we communicate with those families so we can make them feel just as welcome and a part of our district.
Savanna: Why is school choice valuable to LISA Academy and how do you celebrate National School Choice Week?
Krystle: Growing up you didn’t have choices. You went to your zoned schools. There was no leeway unless you were not being honest about your address. Nowadays, it’s nice that parents have options. This is a public school, so anybody has an opportunity to get in through our lottery. It gives them an option to get a different kind of education for their kiddos, maybe get the diversity they’re looking for, maybe get the college readiness they’re looking for. Everybody has a different reason that they want to put their kids at LISA.
Jessica: [During National School Choice Week] our middle school participates in a rally at our state capitol. Every year they take a field trip, they wear their scarves, they get their pictures taken, they have a fun time. This year, in addition to participating in that, we had another field trip scheduled during National School Choice Week to our downtown library. We made sure to deck our kids out in the yellow scarves. We gave them banners. It was very cute to watch them parade through downtown Little Rock carrying the National School Choice flag and wear their scarves. So, they really get into it and enjoy the knowledge that they choose to come to this school and it’s not just the normal get up and get on the bus that comes by your house routine.
Suzanne: We asked parents to do short little video blurbs about why they choose LISA Academy and why they continue to make that choice. That day also happened to be a fathers’ event. It was really great to hear dads speaking for their family about why they made the choice to come to LISA Academy. At most schools, you don’t hear dads talking. You hear moms talking, kids talking, teachers talking. It was really impactful for dads to say, “We’re representing and we do matter.”
Savanna Buckner is press secretary at National School Choice Week and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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