The EAST Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit headquartered in Little Rock (Pulaski County), provides oversight, training, and support for the nationally recognized EAST model of education that is practiced in schools across the nation. EAST, originally an acronym for Environmental and Spatial Technology, is an educational program that combines elements of technology education, collaborative teamwork, and service learning in a model that stresses student engagement.
EAST was piloted at Greenbrier High School in Greenbrier (Faulkner County) during the 1995–96 school year. Founder Tim Stephenson was a second-career educator working with at-risk students who were struggling or underachieving in the traditional classroom atmosphere. He created an alternative environment utilizing self-directed, project-based learning, allowing the students to choose their own projects according to their own interests. Gradually, he integrated technology into the projects. The classroom environment and student accomplishments were quickly identified as promising, and Stephenson was asked to share this model with other schools. From Greenbrier, EAST has spread to include schools in eight states (Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania) with active programs in 210 schools—184 in the state of Arkansas. It is estimated that more than 60,000 students have gone through the program since its inception.
In the EAST model, students are challenged to develop service projects that solve problems in their local communities. To accomplish these projects, EAST students have access to a wide array of sophisticated technology resources. The current EAST classroom includes technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Computer Aided Drafting (CAD), computer and network operating systems, database development, digital publishing, digital music composition, digital photography and video, interactive gaming, office automation, solid modeling, virtual reality development, and Web development.
One of the differentiators in the EAST model is the way the technology is utilized in an educational setting. Rather than teaching students technology skills before the development of student projects, the EAST model more closely resembles the modern, knowledge-based workplace, and technology education is just one component of the overall project plan. Also of note is the amount of student autonomy in the EAST classroom. The EAST model, with its focus on authentic service projects, gives the students much greater latitude in selecting and developing their own projects than in the traditional classroom. This allows for greater learning and the development of responsibility, as well as other skills that are more difficult to achieve in the traditional classroom environment. The EAST classroom is overseen by a teacher—referred to as a “facilitator”—whose primary responsibility is the individual learning and growth goals of each student and the overall project management of the program. These facilitators undergo extensive training in EAST methodologies.
The support of school administration and community is important to local EAST programs, as the initial financial investment is substantial and can be a deterrent for small school districts. However, matching funds are available from the EAST Initiative and the Arkansas Department of Education.
The growth of the program necessitated a training protocol for new programs and facilitators, which was begun in 1999. A staff was developed to manage and support the existing programs and work with schools wanting to expand or add programs. In 2001, this group formed the nonprofit EAST Initiative organization. In February 2015, the EAST Initiative unveiled a new facility in western Little Rock.
For additional information:
Donnan, Robert. “The EAST Initiative: Inspiring Young People, Educators, and Entire Communities.” In Ducks, Documentaries, & Design. Carrboro, NC: Regional Technology Strategies, 2008. Online at https://www.arkansasheritage.com/docs/default-source/arkansas-arts-council-documents/ducks__documentaries___design.pdf?sfvrsn=78336a28_2 (accessed March 14, 2022).
EAST Initiative. http://www.eastinitiative.org (accessed March 14, 2022).
“Technology and Problem-Solving Motivate EAST Students.” Good News: Arkansas Community Foundation Newsletter. February 2009, p. 4.
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