Trendsetter City: School’s CTE program earns recognition for Eureka Springs
Two Carroll County cities were among more than 20 honored last week when they were named 2020 Trendsetter Cities by Arkansas Business.
The annual awards, designed to honor cities who are leaders in innovative programs and initiatives for improvement and growth, were presented in six categories for city improvement projects, ranging from Education & Workforce Development, Infrastructure/Water, and Environmental/Green Management Practices to Wellness & Fitness, Public Safety and Tourism Development/Creative Culture.
Each category was sorted by size, with awards given for winners and honorable mentions in three size categories based on population, ranging from 20,000 or greater, 5,000-20,000 and Under 5,000.
Among this year’s honorees in the Under 5,000 categories was Eureka Springs, where the local school district’s Career Technical Education program is working to prepare students to enter the job market in a number of skilled trades. Green Forest was also honored for its newly completed city hall.
In Eureka Springs, the local school district’s developing CTE program — which offers students an alternative path to college by offering career training and technical skills that can help them find good-paying jobs — is what caught the eye of the judges.
Eureka Spring High School principal David Gilmore said the credit goes to his staff.
“We’ve got a lot of really good teachers that work hard to build up their programs,” Gilmore said. “We have a solid business program in place and we also have a film, audio/visual and TV class that we teach. There’s a lot of components of film in industry and that’s taught at a very high level in Eureka. And then also our shop program has been strong for years. The kids are actually building a project on the campus itself right now — an outdoor classroom project — that they’re building. We have a lot of career technical ed.”
And they keep adding options, including an agriculture department headed by Jason McAfee that has already had a big effect on campus.
“About four years ago, we added an agriculture department to the to the school there,” Gilmore said. “Eureka Springs had never had an FFA program. They’d always had the building trades side of it, but they never had the agricultural side of it. So, our superintendent sought out a really good agriculture teacher, found one that had worked at the University of Arkansas in their greenhouse programs. He’s got a master’s in horticulture and he’s just done a fantastic job over the last four years, building up the FFA program, the agriculture program.”
Since his arrival, McAfee’s students have been busy, helping set up a greenhouse and launching a hydroponics program that provided the school cafeteria with freshly grown Romaine lettuce, saving the school some money while helping improve student nutrition.
McAfee said his department is getting a lot of attention because it’s new.
“Each program has its own thing,” McAfee said. “We have a strong [CTE] program overall [at the school]. They’ve all gotten amazing award. Even our shop program’s gone on to win top three nationals several times the last few years.”
The greenhouse that serves as one of the major components of McAfee’s program was funded through a grant. In addition, a new weather station — which is accessible online — that has been set up on campus was funded through a “Living to Serve” grant obtained through the FFA.
“In addition to [the educational value], the grant challenged setting up a local what we would call an environmental working group,” McAfee said. “And I’ve been actively working on that recently, trying to get the right people in the community involved. It’s fairly small right now, but we’re just trying to figure out what is going to be our role in the community as far as what we can provide.
Eureka Spring Mayor Robert “Butch” Berry, whose office provided assistance in applying for grants, called the district’s CTE program an invaluable asset to the community.
“Our greatest asset in Eureka Springs that we’re losing — and we have been since I was in high school — is our kids leaving Eureka Springs,” Berry said. “If we can develop a method where they could stay here and instead of having to go to work for a low-paying job, they can get out and make some money around here, we’re all going to be better off.”
Gilmore said Berry’s assessment was spot-on.
“I think it’s huge for our students,” Gilmore said. “When I was a kid, they preached you got to go to college all the time. Now a lot of that has changed. They see there’s a huge need for kids in the trade areas. That can be a very diverse field, so I think it’s going to be huge for our students.”
A solid CTE program might even help graduation rates, he said.
“It’ll help kids find a niche in the school and find something they can get interested in and completed on out and finish their degree in high school and move on to opportunities,” Gilmore said. “I think it’s huge for our kids and for our community and our country in general, because these kids are learning a trade, something they can make a career out of, and help build up the communities where they live.”