State Senator Missy Irwin and State Representative John Payton attended the Rose Bud School District Legislator Day luncheon last Thursday. Along with school district administrators and school board members, invited guests were treated to a tour of Rose Bud’s high school and elementary school campuses.

            “If you came into this building before, it looks completely different,” said High School Principal, Tyler Reed, clearly proud of his school. “New floors, new walls, new paint – it really looks great and it makes the kids proud of where they come from and what school they attend.”

            First stop was a high school math class where students were engaged with the Who Game technology that supplements the curriculum.

            “Traditional teachers might think that math class has to be done with pencil and paper, but it doesn’t have to be,” explained Reed. “You can really engage students with the technology. When they graduate, wherever they go, they will be engaging in technology in their jobs and so, it’s really good to get them interacting with it.”

            Reed further explained that the technology was paid by federal and state funds. He also explained how engaging students through the technology makes math an interesting and fun skill to learn. “Without it, we really couldn’t engage a lot of kids in math,” Reed said.

            Another impressive innovation is what Reed terms “SLT”, an acronym for Structured Learning Time.

            “Traditionally, a bell schedule rules the day. You know, bell after bell after bell,” said Reed. “This year we wanted to break up the monotony, so we give them a window of time to decide what they want to do for the day.”

            Students can pick where they’d like to explore for that days’ time slot. For example, the Agri Department offers Welding 101 for students who don’t take the course of study, but they just want to experience what Agri offers or before they go into advanced learning for that subject.

            “I’m going to plug Mr. Nail’s son,” said Reed. “He went to his Dad the other day and said, ‘Dad, you know, because I’m in the seventh grade, I can’t take Spanish until I’m in high school. I’d like to try a little Spanish this week to see if I’m any good at it.’ Because of that thirty minutes of SLT every day, he’s able to learn a little Spanish.”

            The high school also offers study halls during that time where students can catch up on homework or get a math question answered by a math teacher. Students meet with a teacher every Monday when they schedule what they’re going to be doing the following week. The schedule is emailed to the students over the weekend so they know what sessions are available to them. Teachers will also have the schedules readily available in case a student should forget what they scheduled for that week.           Teachers have a say in the scheduling as well. One week, students may be held to Math SLTs and the following week they may not be held to a subject area.

            “We don’t want them to go to math every day if they don’t want to. We’re really trying to make the learning environment student-centered,” Reed emphasized.

            “So many of our teachers compartmentalize their time and many of them don’t get to see this going on because of their instructional demands,” Superintendent Chris Nail added. “We give them time to meet with their kids about the curriculum, what’s going on in the classroom and assessments. It helps our teachers and it helps our kids.”

            When teachers close out a bank of SLTs, the students are free to sign up for other SLTs and teachers will meet to compare notes. For example, math teachers will close out their SLTs and they then meet to discuss data and what they’re doing in class to make math scores go up and what is needed to cater to the whole child. This happens for other subjects as well.

            “When everybody meets they’re talking SLT, SLT, SLT,” said Reed.

            The guests toured the Family and Life Science Center where they observed students handling crying robot babies. The teacher of the class has the capability of programming the robot baby as to the reason it is crying. The students must figure out what is causing the baby to cry and once that need is met, the robot baby stops crying.

            Next, was a tour of the Agri Department where animal husbandry and trade skills are taught. This year, students are constructing a deer stand.

            “I just slipped into class the other day and Mr. Reeves was saying, ‘Well, you got to use the Pythagorean Theory here to figure out the length of this thing’,” said Reed. “You know, kids will actually use the Pythagorean Theory if they’re going into construction and that brings math into the Agri program.”

            Agri students had just participated in the White County Fair and placed and showed in all categories.

            “We have trophies and ribbons and pictures galore,” enthused Reed.

            Questions asked by guests consisted of student’s being exposed to and learning new computer technologies, participating in advanced learning opportunities, and how Rose Bud’s schools were preparing them for the workplace.

            Reed explained that the goal is to have a Chrome Book in every high school student’s hands by next year. Some students don’t have Internet access at home, so they can check out a wireless router to take home. Reed and Superintendent Nail have been discussing putting Internet access on the school buses so that students can get their homework done.

            “I’ve been talking to ASU in Searcy and Beebe,” responded Reed to a technology use question. “We offer a lot of great classes and we run buses to ASU in Beebe and over to Searcy. They have our kids moving toward advanced learning in auto repair, science, and computer technology. I’m hoping that here in the next couple of years, we can graduate kids with 30 to 60 hours of college credit and knocking out one or two years of college. Maybe get an Associate’s Degree. Currently you can graduate with 24 hours in biology. I’m looking forward to the day when I can hand you a high school diploma and at the same time hand you a college diploma.”

            Reed pointed out that he had student’s that are taking online classes and interning with local businesses. He also has students who take their core classes – math, science, and English – during the morning and then go to a job in the afternoon. Many are making money and saving up for college.

            “The online students were coming to the campus to take their classes,” said Reed. “Many said that they worked better at home. I told them that I needed to get an honest day’s work and they had to get with me during my in-service in the afternoon.”

            “Half our kids do not get college degrees,” said Superintendent Nail. “So, how do we get them work ready? I charged Mr. Reed to figure out ways that when a kid graduates, they can walk out the door with a diploma in his or her hand and get a job. It’s one of those things that’s a big part of our mission. Just because we’re a rural school doesn’t mean we can’t get the same opportunities.”

            Nail has been talking with the White County Chamber of Commerce and Congressman French Hill. He speaks with employers about what they need for students to be taught so they will be hired.

            “It’s pretty simple,” said Nail. “They need to be able to communicate and most importantly, show up on time and pass a drug test.”         

            Nail plans to bring employers in to talk to kids during the SLT periods and share what’s going on in their industries and what they need to see in an employee. Baxter Labs in Searcy called Nail and told him that they were hiring young adults with a coding certificate at a salary of $75,000/year. They will be programming robots to perform specific functions in the manufacturing plant.

            Nail also has been touring factories in the area so that he could see the facilities and what is being manufactured. He plans to take students for tours to these factories.

            “Kids think that factory jobs are not good jobs, but it’s changed,” explained Nail. “It’s air conditioned and heated. They have great benefits as well. Schools need to do a better job of communicating with employers and employers need to get with us on how we can help our kids get jobs in this area and stay in Rose Bud.”

            “I want them to be vested in our community, but if we don’t get them the skills, they’ll have to leave to go to Fayetteville where there are jobs,” Nail further elaborated.

            Next, Elementary Principal Melissa Kirkpatrick, directed a tour through the newly renovated elementary school. The elementary school has two computer labs where students can access desk top computers essentially expanding teacher’s classrooms. Guests visited a third-grade class in session.

            “Third graders are very competitive,” said Kirkpatrick. “They’ve covered 50 states in 50 days. Now, they’re doing some research on the different states. Today, they’re looking at Alaska.”

            “We’ve read “Balto”, the story of the dog from Nome,” explained Rhonda Garrad, the third-grade teacher. “They got so interested in Alaska, we just started Googling things to read about it. Now, they want to know about Gunter, the man who fell out of a snow sled. They really got into that, too.”

            “This is just one example of how we try to integrate education through participating in multiple activities in the same subject areas,” said Kirkpatrick. “Our school year is a little bit longer than it was last year and in that we’ve been able to focus on remediation. Our teachers are also able to meet over at the high school and through that our kids are able to expand their knowledge and horizons.”

            On the way to the catered lunch, Board Member Shawn Gorham, proudly discussed the community safe room building located between the high school and elementary school.

            “It will withstand an F5 tornado,” explained Gorham. “We didn’t get the grant to build it, but we built it to the specs the grant required anyway. We built it with funds that have been saved over the years. It’s 100% paid for at $1 million. It has a dual purpose in that it serves as a gym during the day.”