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Dr. April Evans, center, surrounded by her husband, Shane, and their five grandchildren

Dr. April Evans, center, surrounded by her husband, Shane, and their five grandchildren

Alumni | Health Education and Human Sciences | Lion VoicesMarch 25, 2024

Building Foundations with Dr. April Evans

Written By: Ian Silvester

Throughout her life, Dr. April Evans, Interim Executive Director for the School of Education at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, knew her calling was to help others. After marrying her husband, Shane, in 1993 and starting a family, her path down a healthcare career was no longer sustainable.

Instead of throwing in the towel, Evans re-examined what always attracted her: education and literacy.

Growing up in Crawford County, UAFS was her hometown college. She took concurrent courses in high school when the university was still Westark Community College. But as Evans embarked on her new career journey in education, UAFS would become her alma mater.

“Everything is based on education. It’s the foundation for everything that there is,” she explained.

Making a Bigger Impact

In the spring of 2005, Evans earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from UAFS. Taking what she learned in class and putting it to practice, Evans gave back to her community, working as a teacher in the Van Buren school district.

“I wanted to see if I could support children in the classroom and make a difference,” Evans recalled.

For the next several years, she taught first grade and, later, was a seventh-grade literacy teacher. The longer Evans taught, the more she wanted to make a more significant mark on education across the state.

“It just became my passion,” she said proudly.

Evans returned to school, earning her master’s degree in Reading Instruction from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) in 2009. Afterward, Evans obtained the National Board Certification for K-12 reading instruction in 2012. Yet, it still wasn’t enough for her ambitions.

“The more I worked with students and realized the great need for having really solid, effective reading instruction, I wanted to do what I could do to support, promote, and help students that particularly needed that efficient reading instruction.”

Up Next

Continuing her journey, Evans asked herself repeatedly, “What could I do to make a stronger impact overall?” The answer came from where she started: UAFS.

Evans connected with the late Dr. Glenda Ezell, the Executive Director of the School of Education. Evans said it was a connection that became the foundation of her career today.

“She provided me with an opportunity, saying, ‘I would love for you to come and work. We need a literacy specialist,’” Evans said.

However, the job would come with a caveat. Evans would be required to earn her doctorate, which she approached with some hesitation.

“I had to really think about it because I had completed a lot of education, and I was honestly a little bit tired,” she admitted with a laugh. But after some prayer and conversations with her husband, Evans had her answer.

“He said, ‘Think of the impact you can make at that level. Even though you’re making a great impact in the classroom, think of what you can do in higher education.’”

Evans agreed to earn her doctorate and was hired as a visiting professor in the fall of 2016. Later, she was hired full-time as an instructor until she finished her dissertation from UALR with her Ph.D. in Reading Instruction in 2020. At that time, she was promoted to become an assistant professor.

During her early years teaching at UAFS, Evans worked as the elementary and middle-level coordinator, teaching the Science of Reading and the importance of literacy to her students. Knowing they would one day become teachers, her motto was to “create teachers I’d want to teach my grandchildren.”

Impact Made … and More

After Ezell’s retirement, another Evans mentor, Dr. Monica Riley, took over as Executive Director for the School of Education. However, Riley left, and Evans moved into her current interim role “under (Riley’s) leadership and her mentorship.”

Evans has aspirations to continue her journey in education and expressed her hope to remove the interim tag to her title and become the next Executive Director for the School of Education at UAFS. Understanding the decision is not hers to make, Evans said she knows that whoever takes on the role will have a legacy and mission of excellence to uphold.

When students enter the School of Education, the program’s mission is to “Ensure every teacher candidate is ‘Day One Ready’ so all learners achieve their greatest potential.”

Evans described how the mission is implemented by embedding UAFS teaching candidates into the classrooms of local elementary, middle, and high schools. Instead of learning from a book and taking a test, students learn content in the school and “turn right around and implement it with students.”

“It’s about students. Everything’s about students,” Evans said. “If we don’t have our eye on the classroom and a child sitting in the seat, then we’re missing the whole mission entirely.”

At UAFS, the eye on the classroom starts as early as six weeks old at the Little Lions Development Center, and it has no end in sight.

All About Relationships

The success the School of Education has had while Evans was a student and then as a faculty member comes down to one thing, in her opinion: relationships.

“We’re known for relationships, working with our students, and supporting them along the way,” Evans explained. “To come back full circle, giving back and paying that forward again – what I received and what made an impact on me – is what I want to continue to pass on to students.”

Evans holds her relationship to UAFS close to her heart not just because of what it has provided her in terms of education and career but also because of family.

Her daughter, Kallie Dean, graduated in the fall of 2019 with a degree in elementary education. Dean followed in her mom’s footsteps and is now teaching kindergarten in the Van Buren school district, where Evans got her start in teaching.

Evans’ son, Taylor, is a nursing student at UAFS after serving six years in the Army.

Hear Dr. April Evans:

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