Former educator, legislator works to increase opportunities for Delta youth

December 01, 2013

Throughout his long career as a state legislator and educator, Jack Crumbly has worked tirelessly to improve the present and future of the Arkansas Delta. As a superintendent, he helped the Earle School District construct a $4.2 million high school facility, for which he helped campaign door-to-door. During two terms in the Arkansas Senate, he worked to create opportunities for the residents of his east Arkansas district, successfully championing RISE/MOVE, an extremely successful peer tutorial program that received the Presidential Award from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Currently, Senator Crumbly is continuing his efforts to improve the odds for at-risk youth in eastern Arkansas as executive director for the STRIVE Institute of Technology – a program that will provide students ages 14-19 from nine public school districts in four of the most impoverished counties in the Arkansas Delta with an intense career and technical skills development program. The curriculum will include required course offerings in specialized training areas including cosmetology, computer technology, culinary arts, welding, and medical professions, along with necessary work ethic skills. During their time in the program, participants will also have access to summer work and internship opportunities throughout the region and will receive personal case management throughout their experience.

Senator Crumbly says that his initial motivation for the program came from a visit to a Circuit Court Judge in the area while running for re-election to the state senate in 2010. While waiting for the judge to finish court, Crumbly noticed how many young men were being sent to the Department of Corrections. As an educator, he was inspired to design a program that could have saved those young men from that fate. From there, he began research on the amount of money that Arkansas spends to incarcerate a juvenile offender and was amazed at how less expensive it was for taxpayers to educate than to incarcerate.

“Without programs like STRIVE, we could lose these students to welfare dependency or incarceration,” Crumbly said. “I believe there is a better way and a more cost effective way. At the end of the day, they are our children, and many of our young people come from backgrounds that are tough.”

The counties affected by STRIVE make up four of the five counties in Arkansas with poverty rates above 30 percent. Three of those counties experienced population decline of nearly 20 percent since the 2000 Census, also the highest in the state. While these students may not flourish in a regular school setting, Crumbly hopes that getting them into a smaller setting with individualized instruction and discipline will not only catch them up academically, but also introduce them to unique skills areas and ways to find gainful employment upon graduation.

"During the two decades that I have known Senator Crumbly, I have seen him create concept after concept to prepare today's youth for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” said Steve Jones, DRA Board Designee for Governor Beebe. “As a private citizen, a businessman, an educator, a superintendent and a Senator, he continues to answer the call of service above self. What Senator Crumbly is doing with the STRIVE Institute is planting seeds in our region that will yield bountiful returns for years to come." 

This month, the Delta Regional Authority announced a $175,000 investment in STRIVE through funding from the States’ Economic Development Assistance Program. This award will fund a new roof and other repairs to the future location of STRIVE, a former elementary school centrally located in the Lee County School District that also includes 7.5 acres that can be used for future development.

With renovations on the STRIVE facility starting soon, the project is expected to begin accepting students on a limited basis in the fall or spring of the 2014-15 academic year, while continuing to add more equipment and facilities.