Arkansas Study Circles Project

Study circle programs began in Arkansas in 1998 to help citizens engage in dialogue and problem solving on educational issues. Since then, the Arkansas Study Circles Project (ASCP), located at the Arkansas School Boards Association, has worked in more than 50 communities throughout the state on issues such as student achievement, high school reform and family involvement. The project also works in areas such as diversity, early care and education, and children’s health.

Study circles:

  • are groups of 8-12 people – parents, students, community residents, business leaders, teachers – who meet multiple times to discuss a critical issue facing their community, school district or school
  • bring people together from many viewpoints and backgrounds for honest and helpful discussions
  • give people a chance to build trust and find common ground for solutions and action
  • build on good work that is happening already
  • are organized by a diverse group of people within the community
  • are guided by a neutral facilitator, recorder and discussion guide

Study circles foster understanding, which leads to productive action. Study circle programs do not prescribe solutions or advocate specific actions. They lay the groundwork for thoughtful action at many levels.

When people talk with each other and work together to solve public problems, powerful results can take place. Study circles make a difference by helping people:

  • learn new ideas
  • develop new relationships and networks
  • take ownership of the issue
  • emerge as new leaders
  • change institutions
  • change public policy

Study circles benefit communities by:

  • allowing discussion of the issues in a comfortable setting
  • fostering consideration of other points of view
  • inspiring direct involvement in the democratic process
  • encouraging citizens to become more thoughtful and active

Study circles help school leaders identify community priorities and important policy issues. They also help build broader community awareness and support for local public schools.

The ASCP provides free training to communities for organizational teams, facilitators and recorders. It is modeled after the work done by Everyday Democracy (formerly the Study Circles Resource Center) in Connecticut which works with communities around the country on social and political issues.

For more information about the Arkansas Study Circles Project, please contact Dr. Anne Butcher, ASBA Board Development Director.

Study Circles Resources

A local study circle program brings together people who represent the diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences in a community. To successfully recruit diverse participants and then move to action, a study circle program needs to be sponsored and led by a strong, diverse working group and supported by community partnerships. The following training sessions help communities plan and implement study circles program.

Orientation Meeting – is for communities who have not used study circles or those who want a refresher on what study circles can do for them. The two-hour meeting includes an overview of the ASCP and the services we provide, an explanation of study circle discussions and how communities can start one, and time for a mock study circle so community members can get a sense of how study circles actually work.

Organizational Clinic – provides the local coordinator and working group with the tools they need to organize study circles. The coordinator will manage and supervise the study circles program in their community. The working group helps with organization. Members of the working group serve on committees such as logistics, communications, recruitment and action planning. More information about these committees is given at the five-hour Organizational Clinic, which lays the foundation for the program. However, working group members can be added at any time. Click here to view the local coordinator job description.

Facilitators and Recorders Training – helps facilitators and recorders fulfill their critical roles in establishing the productive, face-to-face dialogue that is the hallmark of study circle discussions. This six-hour training provides facilitators and recorders with information on being neutral, active listening, note taking, challenges they may face, and techniques and skills they will need to lead the study circles discussions. The training also provides time for facilitators and recorders to practice their skills using a discussion guide. Click here to view the facilitator job description; click here to view the recorder job description.

Building collaboration takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the most effective study circles are initiated and sustained by broad-based, community-wide partnerships that keep learning and growing.

Study Circles Resources

The Arkansas Study Circles Project (ASCP) can help your community have dialogue on a variety of different topics, including:

Student Achievement- Across Arkansas, people want the best for all children and are concerned about how children are doing in school. We want schools to offer an education that offers children choices and opportunities as they grow into adulthood. This discussion is designed to help schools, families and communities explore the meaning of a good education and develop action steps to create schools and communities where all students can succeed. Click here to access the Student Achievement brochure.

Family Involvement – Research shows that partnerships between schools and families can make all the difference in a child’s educational success. When educators and families support each other at home and at school, children from all backgrounds will achieve more, and schools will perform better. This discussion is designed to help schools, community members and families explore the meaning of family involvement and develop action steps to build stronger partnerships. Click here to access the Family Involvement brochure.

Early Care and Education – Our children are our future. For those of us who have young children, their welfare is an issue of obvious importance. However, the readiness of children – more specifically, their ability to be successful when they enter kindergarten – is an issue that affects all of us. This discussion is designed to help communities better understand early learning and develop action steps to help all children have an opportunity to enter school eager to learn and ready to succeed. Click here to access the Early Care and Education brochure.

Diversity in Schools – In many situations in life, we divide ourselves along the lines of familiarity. It is natural to hang out with people who share our backgrounds, experiences or interests. These kinds of divisions can make it hard to understand each other and can lead to challenges and difficulties in our schools and communities. This discussion will show students ways to work with other students and with teachers to break down barriers and to make school a place that welcomes everyone.

Dr. Anne Butcher, ASBA Board Development Director, can work with a community and/or school district to adapt a discussion guide to meet their needs.