Arkansas Governor’s School has been a tradition for the Arkansas public for more than 35 years. Students from all over the state have had the opportunity to join a community of individuals with the same passion, excitement, and motivation: Education.
Thursday, educators of the attending students came to Hendrix campus to spend the day. Students, who were endorsed by their teachers, have the opportunity to nominate an educator to be honored at AGS. This year 75 teachers from around Arkansas and beyond came to visit their students.
"Not all of our teachers are the ones that nominated our students. We’ve had second- grade teachers or third-grade teachers who just had a significant impact on a student’s life and the student wanted to honor them," said Lyle Rupert, nine-year director at AGS.
Teachers choose students on different criteria. For Dr. Reita Gorman, a teacher at West Memphis High School, students are chosen on more than just academic performance.
"I choose students who, of course, are gifted and talented, and show that they are academically prepared for Governor’s School, but I also look for kids who may not have been far from home before. I think this gives students an opportunity to grow personally and gives them an insight to what college is really like before making a decision on where to attend," said Gorman.
Gorman nominated three students this year and one, K.D. Kirkland, nominated the educator in return.
"I felt like she supported and encouraged me to develop confidence. She’s the best teacher," said Kirkland.
Once teachers arrive on campus, they pair up with the nominator and the two go to class. The educator is immersed into the AGS culture and has the opportunity to participate if they feel.
After a lunch period, educators and students go to a debate, where students will discuss two opposing positions, but what changes this debate is that students argue in favor or in opposition to their actual beliefs.
"Students have to take the side that they don’t necessarily agree with. This gives them the opportunity to learn from two angles, their personal angle, then a more analytical side. This allows students to share ideas and understanding," said Rupert.
AGS is completely funded by a three-year grant and is open to any school in Arkansas.
"AGS has been hosted on the Hendrix campus each year, but there have been other schools that apply," said Rupert.
Hendrix offers a few unique features that grant reviewers at the Arkansas Board of Education find appealing. The first is that Hendrix does not host a full summer session so students are able to function in a safe and non-crowded environment. Secondly, Hendrix’s campus is smaller and allows students the opportunity to explore in groups without wondering too far from home base.
AGS aims to house 400 students each year from all around Arkansas. "These are ‘gifted and talented’ students who are nominated by their teachers," said Rupert.
While at AGS, there are no tests or other assessments, which allow students, "the opportunity to learn things that you wouldn’t find in a high school or even a college setting, unless you’re majoring in that area," said AGS attendee, Lacey Smith. "Governor’s School also allows you to see the other side and see both sides of everything. Here, you learn about yourself and each other and how to respond to each other."
Instructors are not just from Arkansas, but commute from all over the United States. The positions are paid through the grant. Instructors range in profession from high school teachers to college professors.
"The instructors are hired by a committee made up of AGS members and the Department of Education. These are not tenured positions, so application is based on a year-by-year basis," said Rupert, "A licensure is not necessary, but an enthusiasm and expertise in their subject matter is required. This promotes student engagement."
Students make lasting connection at AGS that go beyond the classroom and many activities the program offers.
"Before students come here they may not have a solid peer group, but here students meet like-minded academics and that’s way cool," said Gorman.
Although AGS has had a successful track record, Rupert explained that they would not expand. "Four hundred students is about all that we can sustain for a program like this," said Rupert.
He said that each year they look to offer new teaching approaches and curriculum to keep students engaged and on top of the topics that they will encounter not only at university, but also outside of academia.
For more information on Arkansas Governor’s School visit http://www.hendrix.edu/AGS/