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OPINION | GUEST WRITER: Beyond the grade

Help students reach full potential by Will Stafford Special to the Democrat-Gazette | May 26, 2023 at 3:00 a.m.

F. It's a grade we avoid on a report card. Unfortunately, it's a harsh reality for many public schools in Arkansas.

These rankings are primarily based on standardized test scores, but they rarely paint a complete picture of what goes on within classrooms' walls.

While designed to enhance transparency about a school's performance, the Journal of Organizational and Education Leadership notes, "School evaluation is a complex process that a letter grade does not fully communicate." That's because these ratings do not accurately account for some students' pervasive challenges. Nor do they adequately measure teachers' and school leaders' tireless efforts to serve children's needs, academic or otherwise.

As a City Year Little Rock AmeriCorps member, I've had the opportunity to observe how hard our district's faculty works to break down barriers for students. That said, certain external factors are beyond their control. Systemic inequalities, such as food insecurity or unstable housing, prohibit students from solely focusing on what they are learning in class each day.

In F-rated schools, 82 percent to 96 percent of the student population is from low-income households, and more than 85 percent are students of color. Because of issues at home or even previous struggles at school, many of these children do not have the tools to regulate their emotions to focus on a math or English lesson. Sadly, this often leads to these students being categorized as "bad kids," further thwarting their progress in the classroom.

So, how can we stop the vicious cycle, move past the labels and help students succeed?

City Year AmeriCorps members are uniquely positioned to help address and bridge students' academic and behavioral issues, so they can thrive. As student success coaches in Little Rock School District elementary and middle schools, our team is responsible for math and literacy tutoring, attendance intervention and social-emotional learning. We target our services by creating focus lists of 10 students per classroom that our partner teachers believe could benefit from additional one-on-time.

The academic tutoring we provide students is a huge part of what we do. As a result of our consistent interventions, many of the kids we serve experience significant grade improvements on their report cards.

But what makes this position so special is that we get to be that person in a student's corner, supporting and encouraging them to be their best selves. With our help, they begin to see and believe in their potential.

We can't solve the socioeconomic or racial inequalities within our community. But we can look past those initial student or school designations--even the dreaded F on a report card--to help children improve their academic, emotional and social outcomes.

As City Year Little Rock expands to serve more schools and students in the LRSD and central Arkansas, we'll need help. We hope individuals between 17 and 25 years old with a high school degree will consider joining our team of student success coaches by applying to be an Ameri­Corps member at

Will Stafford is an AmeriCorps member with City Year Little Rock. He will return for a second year of service with the education nonprofit in 2023-2024.

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