Finding NWA - A Northwest Arkansas Education

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Education

National Teacher of the Year finalist and Jones Elementary second grade teacher Justin Minkel talks about moving from California to Northwest Arkansas, and his experience teaching at a Springdale elementary school.

Daycare

Northwest Arkansas has many working parents who depend on high-quality daycare.

For more information on daycares in Northwest Arkansas, check out NWA Kids Directory, Peek-A-Boo Mag, or Childcare Center US.

Primary

School Distinctions

Pre-K through elementary school is an important time in every child’s life, and the high-quality educational offerings in Northwest Arkansas shows the significance placed on the region’s future through developing great students.

The school distinctions include: traditional public schools, open-enrollment charter schools, Montessori schools, independent schools and schools with religious affiliations.

The schools share a commitment to safety, excellence in education, and helping students achieve academic success.

Programs & Extracurricular Activities

Public and private elementary schools across the region offer a range of important programs such as school-based health centersextended care for students before and after regular classroom hours, and supplemental instruction.

A program that stands out is the 1,000 Books Project that began at Harvey Jones Elementary School in Springdale. The 1,000 Books Project was started by teacher Justin Minkel, who noted a correlation between at-risk readers and a lack of books in homes. Minkel’s solution was simple: Provide students with books to keep.

These 25 students made more progress in their reading than I have experienced with any other class,” Minkel said. “By the end of the project’s second year, they had exceeded the district expectation for growth by an average of nine levels on the (Developmental Reading Assessment) and five points on the computerized Measures of Academic Progress reading test. And they made this growth despite formidable obstacles to academic success—20 of the 25 are English language learners, and all but one live in poverty.

The Milken Institute described the home library project as a powerful example of teacher leadership taken to scale: a simple idea with profound impact on students

This is just a sampling of Northwest Arkansas extracurricular programs and supplemental instruction. For more information, it’s best to contact school districts about the programs they offer.

Art Feeds, Dale Benfield | c/o: Art Feeds

Public School Options

There are more than 60 public elementary schools in Northwest Arkansas. All traditional public schools employ the Common Core curriculum as required by the Arkansas Department of Education. Northwest Arkansas students always test above the state average on standardized tests and NWA students’ performance is competitive with national averages in literacy and mathematics.

Aside from the traditional public school education, there are incredible opportunities for students to learn and develop outside of the classroom.

Open-enrollment primary charter schools include Arkansas Arts Academy (K-8, Rogers), Ozark Montessori Academy (K-6, Springdale), and Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy (K-9, Bentonville).

Private School Options

There are 15 private elementary schools in the region. Private school designations include parochial schools, prep-track schools, and Montessori schools.

The curriculum taught in private schools depends on the mission and vision of the school. The New School, for example, teaches a STEAM curriculum, focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic school in Northwest Arkansas, incorporates religious doctrine into its teaching.

The New School | c/o: The New School

Part of our vision is to help children live the life they dream... Who do these kids want to be someday, what job do they want, what type of person do they want to become?

Justin Minkel, Jones Elementary School

Secondary

Fayetteville High School | c/o: Fayetteville High School

School Distinctions

Students graduate Northwest Arkansas high schools prepared to attend college or pursue a career. This region has displayed a strong commitment to providing access to excellent education in both public and private options in Northwest Arkansas.

Northwest Arkansas schools have an average student-to-teacher ratio of 14:1, and 68 schools in the region are classified as “exemplary” or “achieving” under ESEA Accountability System. According to an annual education report published by U.S. News & World Report, Northwest Arkansas is home to seven schools (both public and private) that rank in the Top 10 percent in the nation. 

In 2017, Niche ranked Fayetteville School District and Bentonville Public Schools as the best school districts in Arkansas. Rogers, Springdale and Siloam Springs Public Schools were also ranked in the Top 20.

Northwest Arkansas has a range of secondary schools with the following designations: open-enrollment charter schools, conversion charter schools, traditional public schools, parochial or schools with religious affiliation, independent schools and prep-track schools.

Fayetteville High School band members pose for a photo after a competition.
Band Members | c/o: Fayetteville High School

Programs and Extracurricular Activities

Arkansas public high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and many of them give the option of earning dual college credit while attending high school. Top students can graduate from a Northwest Arkansas high school with as many as 20 college credits.

The clubs and programs offered in Northwest Arkansas high schools enhance the academic experience, and prepare students’ resumes for college applications and/or a career. From joining a school’s student government, language clubs and athletic teams, there is something to match every student’s individual academic interest.

Public School Options

There are more than 20 traditional public high schools in Northwest Arkansas. The largest high schools are in Fayetteville, Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale. All Northwest Arkansas high schools offer a high-quality education, regardless of size.

In Arkansas, there are two types of public charter schools – conversion and open-enrollment. Northwest Arkansas has both types, but significantly more conversion charter schools. Conversion charters are largely focused on professional studies, and their emphasis areas are wide-ranging. Northwest Arkansas conversion charters include Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy, Springdale School of Innovation, Career Academy of Siloam Springs and Rogers New Tech High School.

Leaders in many Northwest Arkansas school districts recognize there’s a need to prepare their students for what they’ll do after graduation. Many will certainly attend colleges and universities, but there’s a strong emphasis on preparing the students who may not be interested in attending college right away. That’s why they offer professional studies in such areas as industrial maintenance, information technology, construction, diesel technology, and health occupations. Certifications (in addition to a traditional high school diploma) are offered, including concurrent college credit and industry certifications.

Northwest Arkansas’ open enrollment schools are highly ranked academic institutions, focused primarily on college preparatory and the arts. Open-enrollment charter schools include Arkansas Arts Academy (K-12, Rogers), Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy (K-12, Bentonville) and Haas Hall Academy (7-12, Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale).

Private School Options

Northwest Arkansas private schools maintain the region’s standards with a commitment to excellence in education.

For example, a new independent school – which is called Thaden School – opened in the fall 2017 with support from the Walton Family Foundation. Clayton Marsh, a former deputy dean at Princeton University, serves as head of school.

Shiloh Christian, a parochial school, offers rigorous curriculum for its students, including advanced placement courses in five subjects and college credit classes in five subjects, as well. Students who graduate from Shiloh are prepared for the future.

The Best Schools (www.thebestschools.org) ranks The New School as the best private elementary school in the nation.

Bentonville High School, Noah West | c/o: Bentonville High School

Higher Education

Old Main, University of Arkansas | c/o: City of Fayetteville

Some of the nation’s best and fastest growing higher education institutions are in Northwest Arkansas, including private and public universities and colleges, two and four year programs, and more programs of study than we can list.

The University of Arkansas, the state’s flagship University, has a rich history in Northwest Arkansas. Established in 1871, the university remains a unifying force within the state, creating traditions, educational excellence and sports teams to rally around.

The university’s roughly 27,000 students come from every county in Arkansas and more than 100 countries, and those students choose from nearly 200 academic programs of study. Through the integration of teaching, research, and service that puts students first, the University of Arkansas is taking its place among the nation’s greatest comprehensive academies.

The University of Arkansas has the largest international exchange of scholars in the world, the Fulbright Scholarship Program. The university continues to accrue a long list of accolades and achievements.

With about 2,000 students from across the U.S., John Brown University (pictured right) is the region’s largest private college, located in Siloam Springs. JBU is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the Best Regional Universities in the South and as one of the nation’s Best Value Schools.

Northwest Arkansas is home to a teaching medical school, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences – Northwest, where physicians, pharmacists, and other health-related specialties are taught.

NorthWest Arkansas Community College is Northwest Arkansas’ primary two-year college, providing skilled instruction on dozens of educational tracts. The school’s impressive programs include the still-fairly-new culinary school called Brightwater. It’s already being recognized for its excellence.

Northwest Technical Institute provides instruction in skilled trades and other technical professions to support the region’s need for a skilled workforce.

Cathedral Group Aerial
John Brown University | c/o: John Brown University

Experiential Learning

Fayetteville Public Library | c/o: Fayetteville Visitors Bureau

Museums, Libraries, and Hands – On Learning Opportunities

The out-of-classroom learning opportunities available to students in Northwest Arkansas are world class. Consider the Scott Family Amazeum, a museum for children and families, where everything is hands-on and designed to be touched, climbed on, and interacted with. Exhibits work to engage the imagination and to bring art and science to life. Of course, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, recognized as one of the most important American art museums to open in the United States in the past decade, never charges an admission fee although it does charge fees for special, temporary exhibits. Other regional museums, such as the Museum of Native American History and the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, provide great regional history accounts. The Fayetteville Public Library has an entire page devoted to events for children. The Siloam Springs Public Library, which opened this year, will be offering events geared towards children as well.

Walton Arts Center offers programs designed to incorporate the arts into students’ lives. More than 27,000 students in more than 100 schools annually experience a live performance at Walton Arts Center as part of the Colgate Classroom Series season. An additional 350 teachers learned to use the arts to teach core curriculum subjects that more than 11,000 students learned.

The Jones Center Youth Hockey | c/o: The Jones Center

Organizations to Watch

There are so many great people in Northwest Arkansas dedicated to providing rich educational experiences to our students. We’ll periodically introduce you to them here.

Apple Seeds and Art Feeds are two community-led programs that offer supplemental instruction and project-based learning opportunities for students in Northwest Arkansas.

Apple Seeds is a farm-to-table program that started as school gardens across the region, arming teachers with project-based learning opportunities. It has expanded its offerings to include supplemental material for educators teaching the common-core curriculum. Their stake in the community has grown from a few school gardens to two working, teaching farms used for field trips. Students who visit the working farms embrace putting their hands in the dirt for an afternoon.

One of Apple Seeds’ purpose is to inspire healthy living and positive food choices by connecting students to food sources. One of the co-executive directors, Mary Thompson, sums it up perfectly when she says, “We want to get them excited about vegetables.” No small task, right?

Research shows Apple Seeds is making a difference. About 95% of students who took a field trip to a teaching farm tried a new vegetable, and 80% of students viewed vegetables more favorably after their interaction with Apple Seeds.

Art Feeds is somewhat of a newcomer to Northwest Arkansas, but that hasn’t slowed their community impact. The founder, Meg Bourne, started Art Feeds in Joplin when the Missouri community was recovering from the May 2011 tornado that wiped out a large swath of the city. Art Feeds’ curriculum is designed to reduce fear, stress and anxiety in students and increase creative problem solving, collaboration and self worth.

The first NWA Art Feeds project was a 14-foot mural designed and produced by fourth-grade students at Parson Hills Elementary School in Springdale. The unveiling of the mural was a proud community moment for the students, educators and volunteers. Heather Cooper, principal at Parson Hill Elementary, talked about the mural project being **“a big self-esteem builder for the students. It did a lot of great things for our kids academically, socially, emotionally, but also it was just fun for them,”**

Check out the video of the Springdale mural here.

Camps and Programs

Northwest Arkansas was rated  No. 1 in family friendliness by Building Cities for People in 2016.

The Scott Family Amazeum has great programs and camps geared toward families with children. Its programs include daytime activities and summer camps.

NorthWest Arkansas Community College offers a Kid’s College in the summer months. Kid’s College is for children ages 9-13. The camp allows kids to participate in fun, educational short-term courses – from computer coding, robotics, and presidential elections to cooking, junior medic, and more.

Among NWA’s many neighborhood parks, we are in the discovery phase of adding a park designed specifically for children with special needs, called a sensory playground. Sensory playgrounds typically include elements designed to elevate problem-solving skills and self-esteem.

If you’re trying to find a neighborhood park or some other hiking, climbing or camping related activity, you might look at the Outdoor page for more information.

There are many athletic camps hosted throughout the region, particularly during the summer months. If you’re looking for a sports-related camp, here are a few well known organizers: University of Arkansas, the Jones Center, Arkansas Athletes Outreach, and others.