HSMS program wins award
The Hot Springs School District received unexpected national recognition this month for the success of the Jobs for America’s Graduates program at the middle school.
Hot Springs Junior Academy, previously known as Hot Springs Middle School, received a Peak Performance Award for the program’s return-to-school rate. The school is now a conversion charter.
The award was presented during JAG’s 34th annual National Training Seminar July 12-14 in Las Vegas. Principal Natasha Lenox had to check with Utana Newborn, assistant principal, to make sure she heard the announcement correctly during the awards ceremony. The school’s new JAG teacher, former Hot Springs Intermediate School math teacher Stephanie Goodman, also attended the event.
JAG is a state-based nonprofit organization with programs aimed at preventing dropouts among young people who are most at-risk. JAG-Arkansas was established in 1996 and now operates 39 programs for students in grades 9-12 and out-of-school/ dropout recovery.
“The whole point is to improve their academics, school behavior, attendance and confidence,” said Kerry Deardorff, the previous JAG teacher.
The Junior Academy classifies as one of only four junior high schools in Arkansas with a JAG program. JAG Model programs are designed to identify students with a significant number of barriers to stay in schools, obtain a high school diploma, secure an entry-level quality job to lead into a career and pursue a postsecondary education. The programs have helped almost
750,000 young people achieve those goals.
Most JAG programs are installed at the high school level. JAG-Arkansas specialists each work with 35-45 students in their own schools.
Deardorff managed a full course load. Hot Springs was recognized after all 187 seventh-grade students to participate in the program’s first year returned for the 2016-17 school year.
“You really get to know the kids,” Deardorff said. “I think that is the funnest thing about it. You really get to know that child and what you can do to help them. That is what teaching is all about.”
Many JAG programs obtain graduation rates of at least 90 percent with at least 80 percent experiencing positive outcomes in a 12-month post-graduation follow-up period. Positive outcomes include employment, military enlistment and enrollment in postsecondary education.
“We want our kids to be college- and career-ready,” Newborn said. “This program is great for this school district and that is one reason we really want it to move on and grow into the high school.”
The Middle School Program is designed to help students more easily transition into high school and preparation for life after graduation. Aspects of the program include experiential-based learning, community-based learning activities, activities and monitoring student success afterward.
The modules of the curriculum for the seventh grade are self-understanding, communication, organizational skills, study skills, decision-making, character development and team-building. The eighth-grade modules are “dreamwork,” lifestyles, negotiations, career-based learning, leadership development and high school transition.
The Hot Springs program began in the middle school’s alternative learning environment program for grades 5-8 in which Lenox was a facilitator. Former middle school principal George Wilson expanded the program to the rest of the student body and hired Deardorff out of retirement.
Deardorff, as JAG specialist, identifies economic, personal and other barriers to graduation, employment and the pursuit of a postsecondary education. She worked with students, monitored their progress and compiled the data, which was used by the national JAG organization to determine the award.
Goodman received the district’s teacher of the year award in 2015 and was one of four finalists for the 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year award. She has 13 years of experience in education and taught at the intermediate school for the past eight years.
“In order for this program to work, you have to have someone who is energetic, goes the extra mile for these kids and thinks outside of the box and outside of the four walls of this building,” Lenox said. “Stephanie Goodman was the perfect fit. When she was on board, I had to fight, because they didn’t want to let her go.”
“Teaching is my passion,” Goodman said. “Math wasn’t necessarily my passion, but mentoring kids is. This program is more mentoring of kids, walking alongside of them where they are in life, helping them discover who they are, what careers they want and get them on a path. That is what intrigued me.”
Deardorff accepted a new position with Oaklawn Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School this year. Goodman said Becky Rosburg, executive principal for the intermediate school and Park International Baccalaureate Magnet School, and the district saw long-term benefits in allowing her to succeed Deardorff in the program.
“Ultimately, I want our community to reap the positive benefits of this when they see the hardworking citizens in jobs all over the city,” Goodman said. “Regardless of what the job is, to see these kids have work ethic, honesty, a passion for what they choose to do, whatever it is that they do.
“I don’t want it to be considered a program. I want it to be a lifestyle.”
The JAG Model combines classroom instruction with adult mentoring, leadership development, guidance and counseling, job and postsecondary education placement services, an accountability system, technical assistance and professional development, and linkages to school- and community-based services.
The Junior Academy plans to incorporate 12-month follow-up services to monitor students as they progress to Hot Springs World Class High School, which began as a conversion charter in the 2016-17 school year.
The national conference in Las Vegas offered training opportunities for new teachers, experienced specialists and administrators.
“That was some of the best training I have been to in years,” Lenox said. “I really got some good stuff.”
“A lot of the training I received opened my eyes to some things we can start now with our students,” she added.
Goodman and Newborn will attend another training session in September in Little Rock to become specialists. The certification adds an endorsement to their licensures.
“I think I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous, but Mrs. Deardorff is still in the district,” Goodman said. “I have her phone number. Mrs. Lenox and Mrs. Newborn, they are all going to be very supportive. I know that if I have any questions, I have three people that can help me answer them.”
“One question on their last assignment was, ‘What do you have to tell the new teacher?” Deardorff said of the end of last school year. “One of the girls said, ‘It’s Mrs. Goodman. She’s got it.”
PEAK PERFORMANCE: Hot Springs Junior Academy Principal Natasha Lenox recently accepted the school’s Peak Performance Award from the national JAG organization during the 34th annual National Training Seminar in Las Vegas. New JAG teacher Stephanie Goodman, left, and Utana Newborn, assistant principal, also attended the event. Kerry Deardorff led the middle school’s program for the past two years as a JAG specialist.