Arkansas PBS & Department of Education Team Up for Summer Learning Program
Executive Director & CEO of Arkansas PBS, Courtney Pledger
Courtney Pledger is the executive director & CEO of Arkansas PBS, the statewide public media network serving Arkansas’ three million people. She joined Arkansas PBS in early 2017, bringing with her more than three decades of diverse experience in content creation and distribution, and media management. Through interactive programs, such as Rise and Shine, Pledger closes the summertime gap in children’s learning, and has fun doing it.
Arkansas Money & Politics recently had the opportunity to ask Ms. Pledger a few questions about her work with the Rise and Shine program, Arkansas PBS’ relationship with the Arkansas Department of Education, and more.
AMP: What is the Rise and Shine program?
Pledger: Arkansas PBS and the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) have collaborated again this year to create Season Two of Rise and Shine, an extensive educational program designed to boost summer learning and help K-5 students retain academic learning targets. The six-week program — featuring lessons led by Arkansas teachers to reinforce learning in the key subjects of math, science, social studies and literacy — will air on Arkansas PBS, weekdays beginning Tuesday, July 5, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. The Rise and Shine Program was created in 2021 to address the challenges that students face during the summer months. In Season Two, seven Arkansas Teachers of the Year, and additional teachers selected by the Arkansas Department of Education, will lead educational sessions that are augmented by exciting virtual field trips, music, arts, animated segments and “Power Packets” distributed to all 75 Arkansas counties. Power Packets are produced by AR PBS educators and align with the Arkansas academic standards. Packets are distributed across the state through partnerships, including libraries, foodbanks, schools, state parks and community organizations for free, and many have been mailed directly to students’ homes. Educational goody bags have been sent to the first 8,000 requests for Power Packets.
AMP: How is Rise and Shine a unique approach to educating students and reinforcing learning targets?
Pledger: When students are on summer break, they typically don’t get the opportunity to continue their learning with experienced teachers. Rise and Shine is a method of bringing the classroom to them right at home at no cost and promoting the retainment of knowledge. Season Two offers additional learning targets determined by the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and consistently delivers educational content for six weeks, three hours a day, starting on July 5 and ending on Aug. 12. In addition to the new music and art segments, students will see the return of popular special segments like “Mr. Steve the Music Man,” “Zach Lunch,” Writer’s Contest winners and the Season Three premiere of “Blueberry’s Clubhouse.” New special segments include “Wendy Balloon” and “Spelling B’s with Benji and Bart.” Printed learning activity workbooks will reinforce the summer learning experience — with Rise and Shine, summer learning is fun!
AMP: Can you tell me more about your partnership with the Arkansas Department of Education?
Pledger: The curriculum for Rise and Shine comes to Arkansas PBS directly from ADE. What we bring to the table are our on-staff educators who know how to ensure that the standards are effectively employed, as well as our creative team, who brings the curriculum to life in Rise and Shine. Arkansas PBS has developed and honed our storytelling and production skills for the benefit of our community statewide and we are so lucky to be able to partner with the smart folks at the Department of Education.
AMP: Can you talk about the different community partners that are also involved in the program?
Pledger: We have many partners, such as school districts, libraries, state parks and community organizations all across the state helping us distribute the Power Packet materials. Our virtual field trips include visits to the Arkansas Travelers games, Mid-American Science Museum, Little Rock Zoo, Scott Family Amazeum, Sunset Animal Rescue, Loving Dog Training (service dogs), Railroad Museum in Pine Bluff, Bull Shoals, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Ozark Craft Village, Museum of Audio History, the Arkansas state Capitol, Museum of Discovery, and Young Chefs Academy. Partnerships are the key to the success of Arkansas PBS, and we’ve been working diligently over the past several years to grow our partnerships across all areas of the state.
AMP: Why are partnerships like this important to your programming?
Pledger: We’re all in this together — in educating our kids and helping them grow into happy, productive, engaged adults. Deep community connections are what make public media unique, and partnerships magnify the work that each of us is doing.
AMP: How does the program increase accessibility to summer learning for students statewide?
Pledger: Support from the Arkansas Cares Committee allowed us to expand our broadcast footprint this year. We have four additional transmitters in areas across the state, moving from a broadcast reach of 76% of Arkansans to over 96% of Arkansans. In addition to our statewide over-the-air broadcast, which is essential for students without access to broadband, Rise and Shine is available via channel livestream and on-demand at myarpbs.org/riseandshine. Families can access all the Rise and Shine content through mobile devices with our Engage Arkansas PBS app, and viewers with smart TVs, OTT streaming devices, phones or tablets can find Rise and Shine by downloading the PBS Video app. Content from Rise and Shine Season One, as well as all the ways to watch Season Two, can be found on page two of the FAQs at myarpbs.org/riseandshine.
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