Community Service Learning in Mountain Home

Nestled amidst the Ozarks in northern Arkansas, Mountain Home is an irresistible, must-visit spot for any outdoor enthusiast. Because the city of almost 13,000 maintains a small-town feel that fosters a strong sense of community spirit, it is easy to understand how the Mountain Home School District has leveraged neighborliness and goodwill to support students in fulfilling the new community service requirement for graduation under the LEARNS Act.

With a focus on connecting students with learning opportunities in their communities, current ninth-grade students who will graduate in the 2026-2027 academic year or beyond are required to complete a minimum of 75 clock hours of documented community service prior to graduation.

The Mountain Home district embraced the new requirement and formed a task force to help students meet the new expectation. Mountain Home Junior High School Principal Kyle McCarn stated that the task force includes educators from the Mountain Home High School Career Academies, as well as educators involved with the school's National Honors Society.

"Our National Honor Society does a lot of volunteer hours and a lot of volunteerism," he said.

Other members include a representative from the district's Alternative Education program and a local veterinarian who also serves on the district's Career and Technical Education Advisory Board.

Wanting to be intentional and focused, the task force did not want to "reinvent the wheel," McCarn explained. Instead, the approach was to connect the career exploration program, known as Keystone, with the community service effort.

"We really wanted to experience some kind of alignment of what it looks like for community service to feed into what they're doing," he said.

Providing students with community service both during the school day and outside the school day also is important, McCarn said. One example occurred when Keystone class students partnered with the North Arkansas Food Bank. During their Keystone class time, students helped pack boxes at the food bank but did not miss any core instruction, he explained.

"Obviously you never want them to miss their basics and their core course, but when it starts fitting into the CTE world and the pathways, there's nothing better you can do," McCarn said. "Our kids need the opportunity to do community service work, so that they learn what goes into these nonprofits, and it's also an opportunity to figure out what they may or may not want to do in the future," he said.

The community service requirement is a "tremendous learning experience because it really strengthens the relationship between the school and the community partners as well," McCarn said. Bringing students and community partners together help build relationships, he said.

McCarn explained that reaching out to an administrator at larger districts for assistance and guidance was extremely helpful. "I think that people forget that you can reach outside of your district, and you can look around for other ideas and get help. Educators can work together to get this done. Yes, absolutely," he said.