Arkadelphia, that southwest Arkansas town with an unusual name and two colleges, is home to 11,000 residents – about 18,000 when school starts in the fall – and quite an educated workforce.
Of those Arkadelphia residents age 25 and over, the city estimates that 37 percent have graduated from high school only, higher than both the state (36) and national average (30). Combined, almost 50 percent has either attended college only or graduated from college with an associate, bachelor’s or graduate degree.
City officials take pride in those numbers and in Arkadelphia’s status as the center of education in southwest Arkansas, as evidenced by their commitment to academic achievement through the creation in 2008 of the Southwest Arkansas College Prep Academy, a summer academic boot camp for Arkadelphia students planning on attending college. The academy represents an effort by the city and Henderson State University to better prepare high school students for college and to make sure the local workforce stays highly educated. That commitment has earned Arkadelphia recognition as a 2011 Arkansas Business City of Distinction in the category of Workforce Development.
“The Southwest Arkansas College Preparatory Academy has been a true community collaboration. The program’s successful partners have developed an innovative approach to better preparing our students for college,” said Arkadelphia schools superintendent Donnie Whitten. “Our community has always valued and supported education and this is one example of its extraordinary commitment. Arkadelphia Public Schools is proud to be a leader and supporter of the SACPA.”
The academy was created following a state task force study that found that 53 percent of Arkansas college freshmen needed remediation, and further more, the state was spending $53 million a year to help get those remedial students on a degree track. Remediation is required for all students scoring below a 19 on the ACT (or the equivalent score on other tests) in any of three areas – math, English or reading. Arkadelphia School District and HSU officials brainstormed ways to address these findings locally, and the academy is the result.
In its pilot year of 2009, there were 78 Arkadelphia ninth graders who indicated an intention to attend college but didn’t meet the benchmark scores in at least one area. Forty of those students were selected for the inaugural academy class, and they met for four Saturdays in the spring and two full weeks in the summer. Pilot-year students were retested following the completion of that first summer session, and 68 percent saw an increase in their ACT scores.
Now, SACPA students (184 in this fall’s class) attend nine Saturday sessions scheduled throughout the academic year, plus two weeks in the summer, in each of their freshman, sophomore and junior years of high school. Participating students and parents are required to sign statements of commitment, and the academy handbook outlines what’s expected of students regarding attendance, tardiness, behavior and dress code. Students attend classes on the HSU campus, and are mentored by Arkadelphia teachers and HSU faculty and assessed throughout the course of the program.
The program enjoys broad community support. Joining Arkadelphia and Henderson in the implementation of the academy were Ouachita Baptist University, the Southwest A-Education Renewal Zone, Southern Bancorp, the Ross Foundation, Dawson Education Cooperative and the Clark County Strategic Plan. Funding for the academy is provided through private grants from Southern Bancorp and the Ross Foundation, which covers teacher and professor stipends, meals, uniforms and supplies. In addition to funding the program, Southern Bancorp and the Ross Foundation created the Arkadelphia Promise Scholarship, since expanded to all of Clark County, that helps local students attend college.
The Arkadelphia Promise has since been expanded through the addition of new community donors and private support, to include the Gurdon and Centerpoint school districts.
Without SACPA, the Arkadelphia Promise likely never would’ve happened.Brooke Gregory, community development officer with Southern Bancorp, said the goals of SACPA simply are to decrease the number of Arkadelphia students who’ll need college remediation, and increase the number of college-bound students who complete degree requirements.
“Early intervention allows for improved student readiness for college, which in turn requires fewer students who need to take remedial courses in college,” she said.
With the help of state Rep. Johnnie Roebuck of Arkadelphia, legislation was passed earlier this year that will allow for possible public funding of SACPA and the incorporation of the SACPA model to other areas of the state through public funding. Roebuck successfully worked for the expansion of the Arkansas Department of Education’s College Preparatory Enrichment Program to include programs such as the academy. This past legislative session, lawmakers voted to expand CPEP to eighth grade.
“Arkadelphia made a pledge to its children to leave no one behind when it comes to education,” Gregory said. “The city recognizes the importance of students receiving a quality education that will benefit them later in life. The hope and the goal is that these educated students will one day return to seek employment and raise their family in the city that invested so much in their futures.”