Explore Academy, Pine Bluff, Arkansas School, Awarded Star Academy National Program of the Year


Operating under the name “Explore Academy,” the Star Academy program in Pine Bluff, Arkansas today gained the distinction of being named “Star Academy National Program of the Year.”

A product of New-Orleans based NOLA Education, Star Academy is an acceleration program for academically at-risk students. It uses a hands-on, project-based, STEM-inspired core curriculum to re-engage learners who have fallen behind, accelerating them up to two grade levels in a single year while improving their attendance, behavior and test scores. Star Academy also exposes students to employment possibilities, relating their learning to potential careers so they understand its relevance to their success in life.

“I am extremely honored we were selected as the Star Academy National Program of the Year,” said principal Brad Bateman. “It was truly a team effort that took all stakeholders to buy into this new program in Pine Bluff. Thankfully we had awesome support from NOLA Education, the Arkansas River Education Service Cooperative, our partner school districts, parents, and staff. Everyone bought in and had 100% faith that this would work.”

NOLA staff weighed in on the choice of Explore Academy: “The teachers, administrators and students at Explore Academy represent the program at its best,” said Sarah Gros, Education Support Specialist. “The staff are intensely devoted to their students, and the students are responding by flourishing both academically and socially. If you had to point to a program that proves how powerful a difference Star Academy can make in a young person’s life, this would be it.”

Explore Academy was established in 2021. Principal Bateman said the results have been remarkable:

“As we went through our first year and began to see positive results, we were really blown away by the high level of growth from the students,” he commented. “After the end of the first year, we knew for sure we had something special. More parents and community members began to notice and the word spread about the wonderful things we were doing at Explore Academy. Other schools began to tour and take notice as they wanted to develop their own Star Academy programs. Visitors would always comment about our students and how they seemed so mature and spoke well about the curriculum in their classrooms. Over the past two school years I have noticed the true joy among our students learning in the classroom. I know that Explore is helping our students in the community and preparing them for their futures.”

Program educators say there is a strong sense of community at Explore Academy. Students are greeted at the front door of the school each morning by a staff member. When asked “What do you enjoy about Explore Academy?” students offer answers such as: “My teachers care about me;” “My teachers want me to do well;” “My teachers make sure I get the information I need;” “I feel safe here.”

Teaching extends beyond the classroom. This past year, students enjoyed a field trip to University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Aquaculture Center, where they were able to apply what they were learning in social studies and science. Afterwards, they enjoyed a fishing trip.

Mr. Bateman and the program educators have been valuable advocates for Star Academy, having spoken at the Star Academy Summit, served on the Teacher Advisory Council, mentored and supported teachers at other Star Academies, and collaborated with other principles.

They have hosted numerous tours for groups including Arkansas Workforce Development, the Arkansas Department of Education, community members, and representatives of prospective Star Academies. Student Ambassadors are the voices of these tours, sharing their experiences within Explore Academy.

However, despite the dedication of the educators, they are quick to shift the praise to the students themselves. “The students of Explore Academy are the true superstars,” said Ginny Chambliss, Science Teacher at Explore Academy. “They take ownership of their learning and actions. You will find them confidently working and speaking; actively engaged with their hands; participating in rich discussions; and supporting one another. They are a special group of kids with bright futures.”

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