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ASMSA unveils targeted growth programs

As the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts begins its search for members of the Class of 2024 and 2025, it recently introduced two new programs that highlight the school’s enrollment expansion through targeted growth models.

The programs are the H.E.L.I.X., or Helping Elevate Low-Income Students to Excellence, Prep Academy and the Visual Arts and Design Program of Distinction. The H.E.L.I.X. Prep Academy, which builds upon the success of several previous programs, offers low-income students — specifically those who have experienced opportunity gaps — a transitional, sophomore year at ASMSA to better prepare and help them excel in their junior year and beyond, while the Visual Arts and Design Program of Distinction creates a new arts curriculum that builds on the school’s mission while developing students’ talents within visual arts and design — serving as ASMSA’s most recent investment in the arts department.–k

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Charlie Feick, ASMSA director of admissions, said she is excited to roll out the programs.

“I’m very excited that we’re able to continue to expand,” she said. “Because we already have great opportunities here with some of our other programs, and so being able to reach more students from a variety of backgrounds and interests is just exciting.”

Feick said the H.E.L.I.X. Prep Academy is a transition program that helps students entering as a sophomore be prepared for ASMSA’s traditional early college format.

“So it specifically seeks to serve students from low-income or rural backgrounds who’ve experienced opportunity gaps,” she said. “It seeks to ensure that they have the skills and the knowledge necessary to thrive in the early college program.

“And so, by bringing them to campus, they’ll get to not only experience the residential program, which will help them feel more comfortable in their junior and senior year, but they can intentionally develop some of the skills that they’re going to need — organizational skills, time management, study skills — that type of thing,” Feick said.

Before enrolling at ASMSA, applicants for the H.E.L.I.X. Prep Academy must have completed Algebra I and submitted qualifying standardized achievement/assessment scores including a 19 or higher on the Composite ACT, and a minimum 19 sub-score on the English, Math and Reading sections of the ACT.

The Visual Arts and Design Program of Distinction, which allows “students with a deep passion for visual arts sufficient time to explore fundamental principles while also focusing on building a portfolio that reflects their own personal interests,” includes a sequence of eight courses that align with most undergraduate majors and minors in visual art.

“We have had the arts in our name since the early 2000s,” said Feick. “We’ve actually had it in our name longer than we haven’t. And we have grown and grown and grown the arts, but throughout this time, it’s been the arts kind of grafted onto our STEM framework. And so this shifts that and brings our arts program into pairing with our STEM program. It will be a true art track for students who are passionate about and interested in the arts where that can be their primary focus.”

Feick, who comes from a rural, low-income area and is a first-generation college graduate, knows firsthand the difference such programs can make in the lives of young people.

“It’s hard to see yourself succeeding somewhere where you don’t see or feel that you relate to anybody in that same way,” she said.

“And so knowing that I share a similar background — that I grew up 3 miles down a dirt road in a trailer and, you know, went on to Harvard for my master’s degree in education — seeing that, ‘Yes, you can do that,””You can go from here to here.’ And knowing that we’re here to support them and give them all the tools they need to build and find that success.

“Because it was certainly my educators in my life that allowed me to do that. And so being able to see somebody who’s had that same experience will help them see that they can do that themselves as well. I am excited for the (H.E.L.I.X. program) as well because it focuses on equity and access in ensuring that young people are able to thrive and that it’s not based solely upon the circumstance of your birth that you have no control over,” she said.

“So ensuring that students from rural areas who don’t have the same opportunities are still going to be able to succeed in that early college environment. Or students from a low-income, first-generation family, which was my experience,” she said. “My folks didn’t know anything about the college experience — what FAFSA was, how to apply for it — and so students from that type of background lack the general knowledge of the institutions of higher education — how they function, how they work. So this will help provide that knowledge and skills to them and their families, allowing them to more successfully transition into university.”

The programs are set to begin next August as the renovation of the historic convent and chapel, which will add an additional 24 beds, is completed. Students interested in applying to enroll at ASMSA and wanting to know more about the application process can learn more at

Registration is open for two upcoming Preview Days, on Friday, Oct. 15, and Saturday, Nov. 20.