Pine Bluff’s Explore Academy Hosts Ribbon Cutting Celebration in honor of Award-Winning Program Launch

Pine Bluff, AR – February 22, 2022 – Pine Bluff, AR – February 22, 2022 – The Arkansas River Education Service Cooperative proudly hosted a Ribbon Cutting Celebration honoring the launch of their educational program, known as “Explore Academy” on Tuesday, February 22nd in Pine Bluff.

Explore Academy is an accelerated learning program that utilizes a hands-on, STEM-focused curriculum to reach students hoping to improve their educational and social-emotional performance. Focused on helping students make the critical transition from middle school to high school, Explore Academy allows students to learn and apply their course objectives while accelerating them towards their proper grade level. Together, students participate in Math, Science, English Language Arts, and Social Studies course work daily and Enrichment and Elective elements that will prepare them for future success in high school and beyond.

Currently, 45 7th and 8th-grade students are enrolled in the program, who enjoy the smaller class sizes, and hands-on lesson plans more than those taught in traditional classroom settings. During the well-attended event, local and state leaders had the opportunity to observe Academy classrooms as students participated in a variety of hands-on learning objectives.

Explore Academy implements the nationally-renowned curriculum of NOLA Education known as Star Academy (see: Star Academy is recognized as one of the most effective hands-on education programs in the country and a frequent recipient of the National Dropout Prevention Center’s Crystal Star Award for its exemplary success rates.

“We wanted to find a turnkey solution that would accelerate learning for children in an innovative way,” said Cathi Swan, Director of the Arkansas River Educational Service Cooperative. “NOLA Education truly gave us that option – this is a truly turnkey program – you just drop it right in. It’s furniture, classroom décor, hardware, software, learning platform, and the curriculum. It’s rich manipulatives that go with every single lesson. Plus, the training and the support at any time – we couldn’t be more impressed.”

Mr. Bradley Bateman of the Arkansas River Educational Service Cooperative serves as the Principal of Explore Academy, where he leads a team of five educators. These teachers include Ms. Ginny Cambliss (Science), Mr. Dylan Harris (Math), Ms. Cynthia Griffin (English Language Arts), Ms. Monya Lagrone (Social Studies), and Mr. Cary Shelton (Enrichment and Electives). Together, they serve students from Pine Bluff, Sheridan, Stuttgart, Watson Chapel, and White Hall school districts.

And the students? They’re enjoying the experience as well.

“My favorite day of the week is Monday because it’s when I get to go back to school,” said one student.

“This is way different than my old school – and I like everything about it. It’s more hands-on, the teachers have more time to help us if we’re struggling, and we’re learning more. I’m glad this opportunity was available to me – I recommend every student try it!” said another student.

As enrollment season for the 2022-2023 school year approaches, interested students and parents are encouraged to visit with their school’s counselor to learn more about Explore Academy’s programming and the enrollment application process.


About NOLA Education’s offering, Star Academy:

Star Academy is an education model designed to enhance the success of disengaged learners. The expert-built programming pairs hands-on learning experiences with social-emotionally-based teaching that allows many students to earn up to two grade-level promotions in just one year. The comprehensive program can be tailored to meet the specific needs of students by allowing the district to select up to eight courses from an offering of core courses, and elective courses in practical arts, life skills, technology, health-based instruction, and real-world career connections. For additional information, please visit www.

Star Academy is a service of Nola Education, LLC.



We want to focus on how STEM–that is, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math–skills can form the core of a curriculum that covers all of the core subjects.Yes, that includes even social studies and language arts!

As noted in this blog post by staff at Portland, Oregon’s Concordia University, the old attitudes that say that STEM skills and language arts are totally distinct from each other are simply outmoded. To quote the article, “the two fit nicely together, building upon and reinforcing the combined skills and content of each”. This post offers an array of helpful and inspiring links, including a helpful illustration, created by Stanford University, that shows how traditional STEM skills naturally overlap with language arts curriculum.

View Full Diagram

And the National Council for Social Studies echoes this assessment with regard to Stem and social studies curricula. In his article, Executive Director Lawrence Paska calls attention to the fact that both STEM and social studies are designed to bring together multiple disciplines into a new way of understanding the world around us: “When partnered together, “STEM” and “social studies” enable us to ask deeper questions and propose sharper conclusions based on a wide body of evidence.” 

At Star Academy, we are focused on delivering a standards-based program that carries a STEM focus throughout the students’ day–from science and math to english and social studies–through engaging, kinesthetic, project-based instruction. We know from experience that this approach can have a dramatic impact on even disengaged, academically vulnerable students.

To learn more about how Star Academy is helping students achieve lasting success, please visit our website, or contact us.

We look forward to sharing more new ideas in our next issue.

The Significance of Soft Skills

One of the most important aspects of our success with students is in helping them build so-called “soft skills”; that is, the social and interpersonal behaviors that are key indicators of employability, workplace readiness, and long-term personal and professional achievement. Because we’re always on the lookout for great ideas, inspirational stories, and especially cutting-edge scientific data, we were pleased to find a video that summarizes the important work on this topic done by Dr. Christy Lleras of the University of Illinois.

Click to Watch

We agree with Dr. Lleras that, as important as it is to help vulnerable students raise their test scores and other measures of academic improvement, helping them strengthen motivation, cooperation, and strong work habits can be just as vital in helping them find long-term success in their careers and lives.

The Star Academy program fosters a unique environment where cooperative, hands-on learning is an everyday experience, helping students learn precisely the soft skills that they may not have developed previously, due to personal, economic, or other challenges in their lives.

To learn more about Dr. Lleras’ work, we encourage you to review her paper on this topic. To learn more about how Star Academy is helping students achieve lasting success, please visit our website, or contact us.

We look forward to sharing new insights in our next issue.

A Peek into Our Classrooms

The Star Academy program is designed to be a comprehensive school-within-a-school. Five classrooms are used for Math, Science, ELA and Social Studies.

Transformed Learning Environment

Star Academy transforms existing classrooms into new learning environments. The academy includes computers for every student, all project equipment, and custom furniture workstations that provide appropriate workspace for all of the program’s curriculum activities.


With great attention to detail, Nola Education has partnered with experts in architectural design to create an innovative, functional learning environment for every academy classroom.

Graduation Season!

We want to focus on graduation season — a time to reflect on the past year, to celebrate our students’ accomplishments and successes, and to start planning the ways that we’re going to make next year even better.

This is our favorite time of year at Star Academy. As a business, we work day in and day out with dedicated educators and administrators, always seeking new ways to help students succeed. And we’re incredibly proud of this year’s crop of Star Academy grads who are getting the most out of what they’ve learned from our award-winning, STEM-focused, standards-based program, and using it every day as they transition into colleges and careers.

As we watch them move their tassels from right to left at their graduation ceremonies, we reflect on how far they’ve come. Many students who have benefited from the Star Academy started out disengaged, academically vulnerable, and in danger of dropping out. But by taking advantage of our program’s rigorous, kinesthetic, project-based instructional approach, they learn the academic and interpersonal skills they need to succeed in the next phases of their lives.

Star Student Spotlight

We’re particularly proud of Austin N Johnson, who recently completed the Star Academy Program at George County High School in Lucedale, Mississippi. To support him as he heads to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to pursue a petroleum engineering degree, we are proud to award him with a $500 scholarship.

“Star Academy, to me, was the best part of my school career,” says Austin. “It was a chance for me to be successful in school. I learned new ways to learn and the hands-on teaching helped me a lot. The biggest impact Star Academy had on me was that my class was more of a family than just regular people I went to school with. I looked forward to going to school with my friends every day!”

We hope you’ll join us in congratulating Austin. We look forward to sharing more stories with you in a couple of weeks. To learn more about how Star Academy is helping students achieve lasting success, please visit our website, or contact us.


The Meridian Public School District is exploring a way to engage high school students and to facilitate graduation through hands-on learning.

The Board of Education approved the acceptance of a grant — contingent upon contract review — to implement a technology-based, hands-on program designed to reach students who have hit some obstacles in their past years of schooling. Board members voted unanimously in favor of the plan, pending legal review, at Monday evening’s regular meeting.

John Taylor, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, said that the program is called the Star Academy and that it comes with a grant of $1 million for a three-year term. He said the district’s application has already been accepted.

“It’s designed to be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) approach to dropout prevention,” Taylor said. “The program extends itself to those students who have disengaged or who otherwise would be potential dropouts.”



Berkeley County awarded “District of Distinction”

District Administrator honors 45 schools and systems with this year’s District of Distinction program.  These school districts have created homegrown initiatives to support students’ social-emotional development, to provide powerful new opportunities for career-focused STEM learning and to improve the skills of educators.

Recognized Impact: Since implementing STAR Academy, the Berkeley County school district’s graduation rate has risen from 67.3 percent to 83.5 percent. STAR Academy students miss an average of only 3.5 days per year, and their attendance has improved 62 percent by their grade 7 year. Discipline infractions have been reduced by 75 percent.


Governor Deal set to launch Berrien Program

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal will help cut the ribbon on the Star Academy Program at Berrien Academy later in the month.


He is scheduled to visit the academy Tuesday, Oct. 31, according to an organizational press release.

Berrien Academy Principal Michele Garner said she is eager to welcome Deal and other dignitaries so they can see firsthand what she has already witnessed during the fall semester.


“We have been very successful with our students, and our attendance rates have gone up dramatically,” Garner said. “Our students are very engaged in what they’re doing, very interested. You’re not seeing students who are getting bored. They’re actively participating in their learning, and it’s just awesome to see.”




The Wayne County School District had their ribbon cutting for the new Star Academy. The main purpose of STAR Academy is to be a “drop-out prevention” and “catch-up” type program that will be implemented in fall of 2017.


Crystal Bates, curriculum director with the Wayne County School District, says the initiative will help students that have been previously retained in any grade level in their academic career, focusing on eighth grade students.  The academy is technology-driven, with no more than 20 students per class. “Hands-on, kinetic activity, strategies,” Bates said.  


“Everything is technology-driven, it is group-based, and it is all about collaboration with your peers.”