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4 Innovative Educational Programs in Northwest Arkansas

schools across the NWA region build on student talents – whether academic, technical, or artistic – with the goal of preparing them for the job market.

Why is this important: NWA needs more skilled workers for a variety of reasons, such as an aging workforce in industrial fields or increased demand in restaurant kitchens.

The plot: Local businesses are everywhere. They donate equipment, invest in education programs and provide internships for students.

  • These four innovative and non-traditional educational programs are just a taste of what’s happening in the NWA.
(1) Don Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale

Principal Kelly Boortz wants every student at the Don Tyson School of Innovation to walk away with something other than a high school diploma — like college credit, advanced placement credit, or a certification that qualifies them for a job on their graduation day.

Details: The Don Tyson School of Innovation, a public charter school in Springdale, offers a two-year industrial maintenance program developed by Tyson Foods where students learn skills such as welding, electrical systems, automation, and manufacturing.

How it works: Students in the program can be ready to start working right out of high school earning over $20 an hour without a student loan.

  • Students also receive hands-on training and certification opportunities in diesel mechanics.
  • Business students run the school cafe — from ordering to point of sale, Boortz said.
  • Tech students are the school’s IT helper.
  • Agriculture students learn about hydroponics and vertical farming, which are becoming increasingly popular in urban areas without agricultural land.
  • Some students already have their drone pilot license and work for NWA real estate companies.
(2) Ignite Professional Studies in Bentonville

Ignite enables Bentonville School District juniors and seniors to apply for a “career stream,” which includes technology; virtual design and branding; Health Sciences; world affairs; educational innovation; digital media; and culinary arts.

Why is this important: These are intended to be broad fields that can offer certifications or training for students to work during or just after high school or further their education in that field, director Teresa Hudson told Axios.

  • All students must take concurrent college credits.

Health Sciences, the most popular career stream, offers training as a Certified Practical Nurse, Emergency Medical Technician, and Phlebotomy. Virtual Design and Branding students take on marketing and social media projects for small businesses and nonprofits.

And after: Ignite will expand in the fall to allow more students in some of its career streams and to add aviation as well as construction and industrial management to its roster.

(3) Brightwater Culinary School in Bentonville

frying to the five-star restaurant chef, there is local cuisine that needs people who know what they are doing. Through hands-on learning, Brightwater is teaching the next generation to fill that need.

Why is this important: In the 1960s, Americans spent about 30% of their food budget in restaurants. This figure rose to more than 50% in 2009.

  • The trend has dipped during the pandemic, but chef jobs are expected to grow by 25% by 2030, which is higher than most other occupations.

Details: Brightwater can accommodate up to 300 students, executive director Marshall Shafkowitz told Axios. Studies focus on one of four areas:

  • Artisanal cuisine — farm-to-table with seasonal ingredients
  • Bakery and pastry – the science of baking
  • Drinking arts – from mixology to pairing drinks with food
  • Culinary arts – connecting food to culture and community

If a student can attend full-time, they can earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in two academic years, or 60 credit hours.

  • A technical certificate can be obtained with 36 credit hours and a proficiency certificate with only 18.
  • Tuition is paid by Northwest Arkansas Community College and financial aid is available for qualified students.

Yes and: Apprenticeships to begin the journey of becoming a certified sous chef are also offered. They require up to 6,000 hours of work, plus over 400 hours of training at Brightwater.

What they say : Graduates have a world of options beyond just being a retail cook, Shafkowitz told us.

  • Become a food writer or photographer, for example, or an entrepreneur or educator.
  • Trained students are in demand at upscale nursing homes and resorts.

“People always go need to eat,” Shafkowitz said. “So the need for skilled craftsmen will always be there.”

(4) NWA Community College Bike Tech Program

The first group students will graduate May 14 from Northwest Arkansas Community College’s bicycle assembly and repair program.

  • The certificate that 20 students will earn is a passport to work in a number of jobs in the bicycle industry.

Why is this important: As bicycle components become more complicated and e-bikes become more mainstream, a pipeline of technicians is needed to service, repair, and assemble them.

  • Industry sales are up 54% in April 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic period of April 2019. This means that many who started cycling are still cycling.

Yes and: NWACC’s one-year certification is one of only two in the United States accredited by the Bicycle Industry Employers Association. It is designed to give students a standardized education so they have the technical preparation to work on a variety of bikes.

Details: Up to 24 students can enroll in the program, which begins in the fall semester and continues through the spring.

  • It requires 39 hours of study, which largely begins in the morning so students can work part-time.
  • Tuition is the same as the NWACC standard – $79 per credit hour for district residents.
  • In addition to bike maintenance, four basic courses are required: public speaking, English composition, business organization and management, and college-level math.

What they say : “We’re not just grooming mechanics, we’re grooming people who can run a service department in a bike shop,” program marketing specialist Ty Beringer told Axios.

  • 75% of the first class are men. The students range in age from 14 (when he started the program) to a woman in her 60s, Beringer said.

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