LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Wednesday afternoon, eStem Public Charter School broke ground on its new high school on the UALR campus. By September 2017, eStem hopes to have around 450 high schoolers on the new campus.
Imagine being a high schooler taking college classes, but instead of having to drive across town you just had to walk across campus? That's the thinking behind the state's first high school on a college campus.
A year ago, eStem and UALR announced their first of its kind partnership.
"It truly has the opportunity to become something with national significance,” said former UALR Chancellor, Joel E. Anderson, during 2016’s announcement event.
Wednesday, they broke ground on a high school at the UALR campus. That school is expected to open this time next year.
"It will be beneficial for our kids, but also for the University and for our community,” said eStem CEO, John Bacon.
On their new campus, eStem students will have the opportunity to take college courses in science, engineering, and math and can even earn an Associate's degree while in high school.
"What we thought was, by bringing them to a college campus, not only will they have access to the rigorous college coursework and that type of experience, but they will be able to experience the entirety of being on a college campus; the social interactions, and understanding what the feel and vibe of a college campus is,” Bacon added.
UALR's new chancellor, Andrew Rogerson, called the partnership innovative.
"We need new students in Arkansas to get a higher education," he said.
Rogerson said he hopes the students will stay at UALR to finish out their degrees.
"We've seen a 99% recovery in the economy, with many more jobs, but all of those 99% have gone to individuals who've got some form of higher education," Rogerson said.
Many have asked; why is eStem building a 32,000 foot building and renovating Larson Hall rather than leasing one of the schools left vacant in the area?
"There are a lot of entanglements in trying to get into an arrangement, where one of the local school districts may sell or lease to a charter school, a facility they're not using," Bacon explained. "It's actually been quite an issue discussed over the years in our legislative sessions about how we do make sure that if there are facilities that are available that charter schools would have the option of using them.”
When the eStem high students are moved to UALR, the old high school will become the middle school and will eventually hold around 500 7th to 9th graders.
"Being able to get half of your college classes done while you're in high school is pretty amazing,” said 10th grader, Kristina Garlington.
"From high school to college, that's what's going to be scariest for me. So, if I can go ahead and get the experience in now, I won't be as skittish when I get over there,” echoed 10th grader, Parker Stobaugh.
Wednesday’s groundbreaking is part of a bigger expansion package for eStem. When the high school students move to UALR, the middle and elementary schools will take more students in those grades.