Amid the uncertainty surrounding its opening on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, faculty members and students at eStem High Public Charter School are generally positive about the school’s inaugural semester.
Classes began at the new facility on Aug. 14 after roughly a year of construction. The school was previously located downtown, in a building formerly owned by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Johnecia Howard is entering her second year as the school’s director, and says students are enjoying a new degree of independence.
“Them having that flexibility has been somewhat of a challenge for me to get used to because I’m used to running a really, really tight ship,” Howard said. “So just trusting my students to be empowered enough to make the right decisions when I’m not right there with them, I think that’s a positive thing. I think before they go to college they need to be able to do that for themselves.”
Howard says while students enjoy their newfound freedom, her staff gets to connect with people outside their normal community of educators.
“We’ve had a lot of professors just say how they love our presence, especially at the Donaghey Student Center during lunch. We have a lot of faculty members over there just kind of monitoring our students’ behavior while they’re there,” Howard said.
Howard says the nearby theatre and nursing departments, as well as the College of Social Sciences and Communication, have been instrumental in welcoming eStem to campus. She says working with Director of Public Safety Regina Wade-Carter and Sodexo General Manager Curtis Williams has also been positive.
“Honestly everybody that we’ve come in contact with has been so welcoming and so warm, and I know this was difficult probably for a lot of them as well, just to have these 500 high school kids kind of plop down on campus,” Howard said.
Caroline Williams is a sophomore at eStem, and says the school’s previous location pales in comparison to the new one.
“The layout is way better, there’s only two floors. Our old building had a multi-purpose room where we ate lunch that also served as our gym and auditorium, so I like walking to the DSC better. I like to have options,” Williams said.
After working with the schools for over a decade, Johnecia Howard hopes the first few weeks of school is the beginning of a long partnership between her institution and the place it calls home.
“We obviously are planning to make sure that we have things in place this year to prevent any challenges for next year,” Howard said. “Again, it’s just making sure the logistics make sense, and that we are constantly looking at ways to improve, and making sure that our relationship with UA Little Rock stays intact for as long as possible.”