Category Archives: Education

Teaching students to look behind the screens

Ella Beth Wengel, Gov. Asa Hutchinson's granddaughter, right, introduces Mattie Brawner to coding at an event at the Clinton Library.
Ella Beth Wengel, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s granddaughter, introduces Mattie Brawner to coding at an event at the Clinton Library.
By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson stood before the assembled students at the Benton High School auditorium and asked for a show of hands: How many were interested in a career in computer coding? What he described as a “smattering” raised their hands.

So then the 65-year-old governor proceeded to tell the teenagers why computers are important. Farmers use software to determine how much to water their crops, he said. Manufacturing is now done by robots controlled by computers. When he was an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, computers predicted potential terrorist attacks at ports so millions of containers didn’t have to be searched one at a time. He also showed the students a code.org video featuring a bunch of old guys, including Bill Gates, 60, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 32, talking about coding. When he asked for another show of hands at the end of his presentation, more hands were raised.

Letting boys be boys in school

By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Every year before students have taken their standardized tests, former principal Terri McCann, now a district administrator, has walked into the third grade all-girls’ classroom at West Memphis Bragg Elementary, told students what to expect, and reminded them to sharpen their pencils. It’s always been very calm and encouraging. Then she’s walked to the all-boys’ classroom, closed the door behind her, and shouted, like a football coach, “Are you going to let those girls beat you again?!”

“No!” they’d yell like they were ready to run out of a locker room and run over an Ole Miss Rebel.

Those motivational techniques are just one of many ways third grade boys and girls are taught differently at Bragg Elementary, and it all started when McCann and other school leaders looked at test results and realized that girls were outscoring boys just about everywhere in every grade.

Why college? To get a useful degree and a job

Dr. Maria Markham is the new Department of Higher Education director.
Dr. Maria Markham is the new Department of Higher Education director.
By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

What’s the purpose of college? In the past, answers to that question often have been relatively abstract: to get an education; to expand your horizons; to be exposed to new ideas. Or the answers would be completely wrong: because it’s the next thing to do after high school; to party; to play football.

Increasingly, Arkansas policymakers have a new, more concrete answer: to earn a degree or certificate that leads to a job.

Last Friday, the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved a funding framework that would change the way colleges and universities are funded – emphasizing completion versus enrollment.

How two sisters and a cup of coffee changed a school

Tyler Cope, 17, already has her certified nursing assistant license.
Tyler Cope, 17, already has her certified nursing assistant license.
By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Pea Ridge High School senior Tyler Cope, 17, was a waitress. Now, she’s a certified nursing assistant making $11 an hour. More importantly, she’s well on her way to a good-paying future in nursing. Thirty of her fellow students also have CNA licenses, while others are learning skills in other career fields.

Cope and her fellow students have that opportunity partly because of two sisters and a cup of coffee. The sisters both were carhops at a local Sonic, where Rick Neal, then the high school principal, would stop. One had been a good student and earned a high school diploma. The other had dropped out. Both were working the same job making $8 an hour, which bothered him.