Creating a Virtual Village

Two hours northeast of Little Rock, 600 people call the city of Cherry Valley, Arkansas home. Of those 600, 283 of them are 7th – 12th graders who attend Cross County High School (CCHS), one of two schools in the city.

An education in rural Arkansas, no matter how good, can feel limiting, even unfair. For years, the staff at CCHS tried to combat this isolation by coordinating internships, but due to the transportation complications that come with rural living, it remained a pipe dream.

To lessen the inequality that impacted each of his students, Matthew Swenson, Assistant Principal and Director of College and Career Readiness, founded a virtual internship program with mentors from across the country.

The mentors include physical therapists, mechanical engineers, attorneys, professors, college students, law enforcement officers, and more who volunteered their time to create an authentic, meaningful experience for CCHS students.

“I would wonder sometimes, Why would someone from New York City be interested in doing a project with someone from Cherry Valley, Arkansas? The answer is that they do. […] They want to help kids out, they want to help the community, even if it’s not the one they currently live in.” Swenson said.

Since 2012, the CCHS graduation rate climbed from 81 percent to 90 percent, surpassing the state and national averages.

“I think it would be a lot easier to be a traditional school, but it wouldn’t be any fun.” Swenson said.

Matthew Swenson has joined Blytheville High School: A New Tech                  School as Principal.