Closing the Opportunity Gap at Cross County High School

September 20, 2016

This summer, Cross County High School (CCHS) in Cherry Valley, Arkansas, received the Chad P. Wick Award for Social Justice.

This award is given to a school that has demonstrated success in closing the opportunity gap for underserved students, something CCHS works hard at every year.

3daea71d-8d44-43b5-9fd0-178662f36062_image01CCHS, a member of the New Tech Network (NTN), aims to better serve first-generation college students and students who live in poverty through its College and Career Access Program.

Matthew Swenson, College and Career Access Center Director, was on hand to accept the award. “I am honored to accept this award on behalf of Cross County High School’s staff and students. We could not have achieved this honor without help and support from our coaches and sister schools in the New Tech Network, along with parents and administrators. This shows what New Tech schools do is right for all kids.”


According to an Arkansas Department of Education report, district leaders realized that students were enrolling in postsecondary opportunities at a rate far lower than the state and national average. In response to this data, CCHS launched the College and Career Access Program (C³) during the 2014-2015 academic year.

The program provides guidance and support to students and alumni in order to level the playing field. Since going to college is only made easier by having “experts” to assist you through the difficult (often frustrating) process, C³ is designed to mitigate these disadvantages by taking control of the conversation, the timeline and working to adjust mindsets. Support includes:

  • Implementing curriculum, strategies and guidance carefully designed to help students understand that postsecondary experiences are possible for them;
  • Planning trips to show students what is possible – this means a college trip for every student, grades 7-12;
  • Providing students, parents and community members with the resources and guidance necessary to help those around them achieve their goals;
  • Designing and launching a college and career course (a requirement for all 11th graders);
  • Planning job shadowing experiences for all 11th graders;
  • Providing ACT boot camps to students prior to the ACT; and
  • Providing guidance and support to CCHS alumni throughout college.

“Cross County High School is inspiring students to graduate knowing that college is a reality, not just an aspiration, regardless of background or economic challenges. I am so proud of their commitment to that vision,” said Chad P. Wick.

The Need for HigherEd

The reality is that zip codes, parents’ level of education and income often dramatically impact student opportunities and lifelong earning potential.

CCHS is located in an economically challenged, sparsely populated, 300-square-mile school district. It has 700 students from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Farming is the main source of income in the area with rice, corn and soybeans as the three major crops. There are no local businesses, and the town has a gas station and a Dollar General store. People who do not farm drive long distances to work.

“For most students, post-secondary education is now a necessity to reach the middle class, and the students we serve need someone to help them be successful in the post-secondary world,” said Cross County School District (CCSD) Superintendent Carolyn Wilson.

Matthew Swenson punctuated this point, saying, “All students should – dare I say, must – have the same opportunities as their peers across the state if we want them to thrive rather than just live.”

“In the United States, we read a lot of headlines that focus on ‘going-to-college,’ yet the even bigger crisis is that in this country we graduate far too many students who are not ‘ready-for-college-level work’,” said Lydia Dobyns, President and CEO of NTN. “The Cross County High School educators are providing paths to ensure their students graduate with the skills and academic preparation they need. Our aspiration is that every student gets access to the kind of education that prepares them to be successful if they attend college.”

A New Tech Transformation

The decision to transform this rural community high school into a New Tech school was a district-wide commitment. The District realized its students did not have knowledge of the world around them, and many students had never been out of the three small communities that comprise the school district, New Tech Network felt like a perfect fit as it is comprised of over 180 connected schools in the U.S. and Australia that constantly collaborate and connect. All of the schools share these four design:

  • Teaching that Engages ─ Through project-based learning, students become problem-solvers.
  • Outcomes that Matter ─ New Tech Network learning outcomes also measure collaboration, written and oral communication and the development of student responsibility for their own learning, or agency.
  • Culture that Empowers ─ By making learning relevant and creating a collaborative learning culture, students become connected to, engaged with, and challenged by their school, their teachers and their peers.
  • Technology that Enables ─ Through a technology-rich environment, teachers and students create, communicate, access information, and experience self-directed learning.

To learn even more about New Tech Network’s four key student outcomes, check out its Annual Outcomes Report.

Supt Carolyn Wilson and Director Matthew Swenson have a frank conversation on the challenges and successes they have encountered working to close the opportunity gap to ensure all students are college and career ready.

This blog originally appeared on Getting Smart.

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