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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Academic Accolades

As students end another school year, we are seeing communities across the State celebrating the academic achievements of young Arkansans. I’ve had the privilege of participating in a number of these events, including one at the Governor’s Mansion in which the top two seniors from each Arkansas high school were honored for their scholastic success. Locally, several schools and community organizations have hosted academic signing days to celebrate educational aspirations similar to ceremonies held when student athletes select a college sports team. These recognitions emphasize that excelling academically is rewarding and applauded in Arkansas.

Beyond individual achievements, we often hear of Arkansas student groups triumphing in regional and national competitions. While we can’t share all those stories, there is one this past month I want to mention. A team of 22 students from the Mountain Home School District recently won a world championship in robotics. The team competed in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, Robotics Competition. They were given six weeks to build a robot that could play basketball, with the robot shooting baskets set at three different levels. Known as the Baxter Bomb Squad, this Arkansas team won regional competitions in Kansas City, Chicago and Dallas. Then it was on to the world competition in St. Louis in late April.

Up against 400 other teams from across the nation, Mountain Home’s robot fell apart. Almost every component had to be fixed. The threat of elimination loomed, but the students recovered, made the repairs and persevered. Their persistence paid off, and they won the world championship, an enormous accomplishment.

I share this story to show what our Arkansas students are capable of when they are engaged and encouraged. For too long, people inside and outside our borders have dismissed the abilities of both our students and our educators. It’s far past time that we stop belittling ourselves. Our public educational system is now ranked fifth in the nation. Other states are looking to us for ways to enhance their own schools and curriculums. The more we all believe in ourselves, the more we can expect to improve. This is true, not just for our schools, but for all aspects of life in Arkansas.

Exciting things lie ahead for our schools and our students. At a time when many states continue to cut public-education funding, Arkansas’s schools will begin the next academic year with increased per-pupil funding. This coming August, the first group of schools will begin participating in our STEM Works Initiative, which will better educate students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math - the fields that will create three-fourths of new jobs in Arkansas by 2020. With our commitment, encouragement and support as parents, educators and community members, Arkansas’s children will know that anything is possible with an education. The more they believe in their future, the better off we’ll all be as a state moving forward.