Adopt-A-Classroom Energizes Participants, Benefits Students

 Dr. Shengfan Zhang takes part in Adopt-A-Classroom Program

Participants in the Adopt-A-Classroom program at the University of Arkansas talked at a reception April 14 about how it energized them and changed their perceptions of education. In one case, a participant said it made him consider a career in teaching.

“This really changed the way I look at things,” said Toby Fitzsimons, a researcher in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences. “I’ve always thought I would work in industry first, then return to academia (higher education), but this experience has made me add one more option. It has potentially changed what I want to do.”

Kevin Fitzpatrick, sociology professor and holder of the Jones Chair in Community, said the experience gave him a real appreciation for high school teachers.

“I’ve said to multiple colleagues that the amount of respect and engagement of these kids is phenomenal,” Fitzpatrick said.

Elizabeth Smith, director of the Education Renewal Zone, created the program in 2012 after hearing from principals at schools that partner with the Education Renewal Zone that they were interested in having U of A faculty and staff members in their schools. Last year, Smith matched 11 pairs; this year, she had 32 pairs.

The ERZ was funded by the Arkansas Department of Education in 2012 to promote collaboration between the University of Arkansas, local schools and the community. It works alongside the Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative and other community partners in providing professional development, mentoring opportunities and other programs as deemed necessary by the ERZ advisory board, comprised of local school administrators, U of A representatives, and community representatives.

Other programs established by the office include Future Teacher’s Day that brings high school juniors to the U of A campus to learn about majoring in education and the Northwest Arkansas P-20 Task Force, which includes members from all levels of education who want to improve alignment among education systems in Northwest Arkansas.

At the Adopt-A-Classroom reception at the Arkansas Union, three pairs of U of A-teacher teams talked about what they learned this year. The U of A personnel teach in the local schools anywhere from three to eight times during the school year, and several have brought the students in their adopted classroom to the U of A for activities and tours.

“We feel like we are creating a bridge,” Smith said. “We’re helping both sides see how research translates in the K-12 classroom, and the faculty learn about what’s going on in local classrooms.

“We are also linking students with higher education, showing them that professors are not scary; they are regular people, not caricatures,” she continued. “We know from research that typically, by the seventh or eighth grade, students have decided if they are going to college.”

Teachers said they had gained not only a resource they could call upon later, but also a friend.

Smith had twice the demand for U of A partners than she could fill this year. She hopes to recruit additional faculty and staff to meet the demand next year.

Release date: 4/24/2014