MOUNTAIN PINE -- Mountain Pine High School's EAST Initiative was recently named one of 70 schools in the state, and one of two in Garland County, to earn the initiative's Program of Influence distinction for its top engagement and practices.
The EAST Program of Influence was created to highlight EAST programs "embodying every facet of success, like fulfilling student training and professional development requirements, participating in EAST Conference, and interacting with their communities through EAST Night Out," a news release said.
Lakeside's junior high and high schools were also recognized with the distinction.
EAST, an acronym for Education Accelerated by Service and Technology, allows students to tackle a variety of service-based learning opportunities in a variety of different ways.
"It was a pretty big deal for us," MPHS EAST Facilitator Joseph Alderman said. "When you're talking about 24% (in the state), that's a big difference. ... It's awesome. It just shows that in our program, we're able to meet those EAST standards and the requirements that they have, while at the same time following the EAST model. So getting students service-based learning while at the same time getting them the training that they need."
Alderman said when he took over the program in 2016, EAST's focus was shifting from technology to more service-based technology.
"Now with EAST changing its brand and working over to the service-based technology as part of it, it's more about trying to get out of these classrooms and try and reach out and solve the issues that you can. Because every community's different," he said.
"And so if you sit inside these four walls, you can't change the world around you. So EAST did a great job when they rebranded and talked about the service-based technologies where we can branch out and reach out and solve these issues. I think it's fantastic. And it gives these kids that world experience outside of just school."
Last year the school's program was a finalist for single booth design at the state conference held at the Hot Springs Convention Center, while of one of its student participants was chosen as a "Difference Maker."
"I'm excited," he said. "I've got a great group of kids this year. ... It's a fresh start. I've got some good ones, and instead of sitting around, they're hitting the ground running. So I'm really excited about it."
The program is up from 24 students last year to 30 this year. While current, ongoing projects include an outside hammock garden, disc golf course, a memorial unity garden, and library exchange, other projects include the EAST Tech Internship program, in which students interested in information technology perform electronic maintenance throughout campus.
"They find those immediate needs and it allows them to go to a staff member and take care of whatever problem just arrived. Let's say their Smart Board's not working ... that provides a solution to that problem when they go down there to fix it. At the same time, they're learning how to work with their client, which is the teacher, and at the same time, they're working with the other intern so they have kind of co-worker atmosphere. A lot of life skills with that one," he said.
He noted that a few years ago a student expressed interest in repairing the school's Chromebooks. Over a three-year period, the program's Chromebook Repair Shop ultimately saved the school over $50,000, changing batteries, repairing screens, motherboards and other issues. The group is currently working on a door actuator that allows doors that open outward to be barricaded in emergency circumstances.
"I even had a student work on expanding Highway 227 to get a shoulder added," he said. "She ended up being turned down, but she did like five years' worth of crash data and all this stuff, and the funds weren't there from the state to be able to widen the road, however, one thing that was accomplished was they came out and they resurfaced Highway 227 on the no-shoulder areas and added some more signage."
They also make laundry detergent, which goes into the school's backpack food program.
"What's nice is when you come into EAST, you're not bound to anything. You're not restricted. So when you come in here, it's whatever you want to pursue and whatever problem you want to go solve," he said.
"I call it 'controlled chaos' in my classroom because I'll have a student over here on this side working in virtual reality gaming or something, and over here I have this kid that's mapping a bus route. It's just everywhere all within one spot."