BYLINE: Bobbie Handcock

Newswise — Debra Rail, a chemistry and physics teacher at Vilonia High School, recently spent 18 days exploring the intricate workings of a lumber and design center. 

“I love to learn new stuff that I can take back to my students,” she said, explaining that she learned about kitchen design, architecture, plumbing, electrical engineering, and more.

Rail was among 26 Arkansas teachers who participated in STRIVE, a statewide paid professional development program for Arkansas middle and high school STEM teachers. Held at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the program’s goal is to inform teachers so they can better prepare students for success in jobs that require STEM skills taught in the classroom. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.

During STRIVE, teachers are immersed in local businesses and industries for part of the summer to experience how the skills they teach in the classroom relate to the real world. Teachers receive training and support in how to incorporate the experiences into their classrooms, promoting approaches such as science inquiry and problem-based learning.

Rail intends to incorporate what she learned at Ridout Lumber in Conway into a classroom project for her students.

“They’re going to create a blue blueprint for a house, determine what materials that will need, and the cost,” she said. “We’re going to look at the different careers involved in building that house such as the architect, the engineer, the plumber, and the electrician.”

Rail is a mentee in the program because it’s her first year. STRIVE has a tiered approach involving mentees, mentors (second year), and advisors.

Cameran Faucette, who teaches biology and human anatomy/physiology at Watson Chapel High School, is a mentor in the program.

“STRIVE is the future,” he said, explaining that it allows teachers to help students explore new career pathways and gain skills at a high school level.

When he was immersed in the Kohler manufacturing company in Sheridan, Faucette asked two questions: What are some skills that you see people lacking when they come into a job like this? What are some of the skills you see as positive assets to the company? The responses were self-motivation and attendance.

“I’m going to incorporate those skills into my lesson plan as 21st Century skills,” he said, adding that he will continue to include the specialized lab skills he added when he was immersed with the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson County last summer.

Moriah Santiago, a 6th grade science teacher at J.O. Kelly Middle School in Springdale, said STRIVE inspired her to increase student awareness of the diversity of jobs that require STEM skills.

“I am committed to teaching them the skills they need in any future workforce and I’m excited to invite any community partners to my classroom so we can interact more with our community,” she said.

Lyndsey Rich, a health sciences teacher at Valley View High School in Jonesboro and a STRIVE advisor, said the program has transformed her.

“It has changed me as an educator in evaluating data on my students, making sure my lessons are applicable to the workforce and rigorous, and determining how to use that data to improve for next year,” she said.

As an advisor, Rich has helped create professional development for when the teacher meets in person and for asynchronous learning. She also provides support for the mentors.

“STRIVE is always looking to support businesses, teachers, and students in all parts of the state,” said Dr. Mark Baillie, STRIVE program director. “For 2024, we are hoping to expand participation in southern Arkansas, so if you live there and are thinking about participating, please reach out to us.”

If you would like to learn more about how you can join the program as a teacher or business, attend the virtual open house on Jan. 20, 2024, from 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. on Zoom. Register for the STRIVE Open House event. For more information, please visit the STRIVE program website at

The teachers who participated in the 2023 STRIVE program are Jessi Beaver and Brandon Murphy, Maumelle High School; Chad Nall, eSTEM Charter High School; Kellie Smith, Horace Mann Middle School; Larry Williams, Mills Middle School; Whitney Major, Lakeside High School; Aquia Vasseau, Hot Springs High School; Cameran Faucette and Pamela King, Watson Chapel High School; Clay Morton, Fayetteville High School; Moriah Santiago, J.O. Kelly Middle School; Paul Wolf, Haas Hall Academy Springdale; Preslee Carter, Drew Central High School; Alayna Duren, Armorel High School; Kyla Glasser, Ahlf Junior High School; Sharon Hamilton, Mountain Home Junior High School; Jamie Hawley, Huntsville High School; Misty Jolly, Corning Middle School; Jennifer Langston, Paragould Junior High School; Debra Rail, Vilonia High School; Lyndsey Rich, Valley View High School; Ron Sayler, Haas Hall Academy Bentonville; Jodi Taintor, Warren Middle School; Kim Usery, Cabot High School; Jody Williams, East End Middle School; and Tyler Williams, Calico Rock High School.