Program to benefit North Little Rock School District freshmen

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Plans for a “school within a school” are set for the coming school year at North Little Rock High School.

North Little Rock High School is on track to become the latest member of the Academies of Central Arkansas with its freshman academy. The initiative, backed by the Ford Foundation, calls for a more career-oriented education with programs at high schools in the Little Rock, North Little Rock, Jacksonville and Pulaski County Special school districts.

Most high schools within the four school districts are starting with the ninth-grade academy this coming school year, except for Jacksonville High School and Southwest Little Rock High School, which are further along in the program.

The freshman academy program will begin this school year at North Little Rock High School. Ninth-grade classes will all be moved to D-tower on the school’s campus to create a smaller learning community inside the school.

Students will still be required to take English, math, science and social studies classes along with a freshman seminar, but they will do so in a smaller learning environment where they can get more attention from teachers. The academy will have its own assistant principal, dean of students and school counselor.

“It’s a school within a school,” said North Little Rock High School Principal Nadia Saint-Louis. “And they still get to participate in electives, performing arts, they get to be in athletics, but we have a place for them that they’re on a team.”

Saint-Louis told the North Little Rock School Board on Thursday that ninth grade is the most important year for any school student and the transition from middle school has become harder in recent years. While suspensions and detentions are up across the district, disciplinary actions against ninth-grade students are particularly high, Saint-Louis said. The academy may make a difference.

“It’s going to provide them with meaningful experiences as well as a supportive staff to help them with their transition,” Saint-Louis said. “It’s going to increase our student’s passage rate. It’s going to decrease discipline referrals.”

The academy will eventually expand beyond the ninth grade. Students can choose different academic tracks that Saint-Louis likened to selecting a major in college. Those academic tracts will be career-oriented, with the school district partnering with businesses in the city.

North Little Rock High School will eventually have five academies, a freshman academy and four other career-oriented academies.

“The goal is, this ninth-grade class will select their career academy pathway for next school year,” Saint-Louis said.

Businesses would host field trips for students, job shadowing opportunities, internships, guest lectures and mentorship programs, said Kristi Barr, director of human resources and talent initiatives at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a custom fit by having smaller learning communities you ensure that every student is known by their teachers and you can provide a tailor-made experience for them. Again, we mentioned it provides choices for students,” Barr said. “They’re given opportunities to choose a learning experience that’s going to make their core classes relevant to them.”

The academies program is a joint effort between the individual school districts and chambers of commerce in Central Arkansas. Barr said the program is tied to economic-development, with hopes that better performing school districts will help draw more families to the area.

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