Author Archives: veronicajonesrak

New Vistas students send love to the troops

Some people less than half her age are keeping track of U.S. Marine Platoon 2nd Lt. Emily Lyren. Second and fourth grade students at the New Vistas Center for Education, a private school in Chandler, have adopted Emily and her entire platoon as they serve a year in Afghanistan.

Joseph Nseir, Trevor Burgoyne and Runeli Hatalkar load up a package to send off to Afghanistan. (Photo by Nancy Machain)

A mother/daughter teaching team, Andrea Pearson, and her daughter Mandy Pearson, have personal ties to this group. Growing up, Mandy and Emily were best friends through elementary, middle and high school. After losing touch for a few years, Mandy heard that Emily would soon be deploying and they reunited.

Andrea then presented the idea to send Emily’s platoon some cards and gifts. Ever since, the students have been working on projects to make the troops smile.

“They are all for making the troops’ journey over there better, or at least more bearable, and love showing them that they care,” says Mandy.

All 40 members of the platoon have 46 pairs of little hands working hard at the Chandler school to make sure every soldier has something to look forward to when mail call rolls around. Whether it’s a letter with a joke, or a box filled with goodies like Pringles, the soldiers will be able to get a little taste of home,

“These soldiers often work 18 hour days in grueling heat at a remote combat post where personal time is in short supply,” says Andrea. “So imagine a soldier during ‘mail call’ hearing his or her name called out, and being able to physically hold something from home that instantly takes them away from the harshness of their surroundings, even if it’s only for a few minutes.”

2nd Lt. Emily Lyren, an Annapolis graduate, is commanding officer of a 40-man platoon deployed to Afghanistan in January 2011.

Emily made time to send a “thank you” back to the thoughtful students:

“It means more than people realize to get the cards and gifts from the students,” she wrote. “These packages bring such smiles to the faces of all my Marines. They love the pictures and take them and plaster the insides of their trucks and their rooms with them. They are a sweet reminder of home and they give the Marines a real boost in morale. They remind us of who we are fighting for. There are a small percentage of my Marines who don’t get many care packages, so to share one from these kids really makes their day. The drawings, the poems and letters — they are all so much appreciated.”

Recently, the platoon received another package of goodies, magazines and books. The soldiers especially loved the Debbie Macomber books and National Geographic magazines. — Veronica Jones

2nd Lt. Emily Lyren's platoon.


Ashland Ranch sixth grader to be student ambassador in Australia

Alex Bohr, a sixth grader at Ashland Ranch Elementary School, will be acting as a student ambassador in Australia this summer.

Alex Bohr is a busy 11-year-old. He is on Ashland Ranch Elementary School’s student council, he plays soccer, flag football and basketball and, starting June 11, he will become a student ambassador on the other side of the world.

For two weeks Alex will explore Australia through a program called People to People. He will have the chance to share American culture and politics while learning about Australia’s people at the same time. He’ll be traveling all over the country to Sydney, Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and Daydream Island.

“The year before I had been nominated to go to the UK and Ireland so it wasn’t a complete surprise but I was happy that I was able to go this time,” says Alex.

His mother, Kathy Bohr, says he is the perfect choice for this trip as he has devoted a lot of time to learning about Australia.

“He’s one of those kids who love geography,” says Kathy. “Some kids wouldn’t feel as comfortable going. He was familiar with Australia from all of his reading.”

Alex has done several tests and quizzes to learn more about some of the places he’ll be visiting.

When asked what he was most excited about, he replied that he wanted to get a true Australian experience: “We get to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef, throw a boomerang, eat some weird foods, just everything that’s really fun.”

Both Alex and Kathy have been hard at work raising the money for Alex’s trip. While Kathy has helped find some fundraising opportunities, she says Alex himself has done a lot of the work. He has sold Village Inn Pie Cards, collected old cell phones and ink jet cartriges and held a garage sale. Fry’s is donating a portion of profits to Alex’s trip.

Alex has flown alone on a plane before, but both Kathy and Alex have a few nerves mixed in with their excitement.

“It’s for 15 days so it’s kind of long,” says Alex.

Alex probably won’t have much time for homesickness. He’ll be too busy having fun Down Under. — Veronica Jones

Metro Tech/ASU Writing Center opens

A new Writing Center in the library complex at  Metro Tech High School in Phoenix is giving students a leg up on their writing skills.

The center, created in partnership with Arizona State University, is a learning experience for all as the Metro Tech students get advice from ASU students, many of whom are studying education or journalism and benefit from the teaching experience.

Three days a week, students are welcome to visit the center, where they receive help either in a one-on-one setting or with a small group of other students. English teachers will help students set up appointments and obtain passes to the center.

Metro Tech students who visit the Writing Center have the chance to work on all types of writing, from essays and literary analyses to journal writing and memoirs, all skills they will be able to use when they leave high school and enter college or the working world. Those thesis statements won’t write themselves, but with help from the Writing Center, students will learn how to make them stronger and more convincing.

The program was developed by ASU Downtown Faculty Head of Languages and Cultures Barbara Lafford, Ph.D., English Education Professor James Blasingame, Ph.D. and Metro Tech Assistant Principal Evie Cortes-Pletenik to give students extra attention that English teachers may not necessarily have time to give.

During my freshman year at ASU, I was told by my English teacher that if I wanted the chance to raise my grade on an essay I had written, I would have to go to the Writing Center at ASU before resubmitting it. Needless to say, as a future writer I was not pleased about this. But I went.

The tutors were ASU students, not much older than myself. They broke down my essay into different parts so I could try and make my point more clear, instead of being overwhelmed by worrying about the whole essay. I don’t remember what kind of grade I got once I reworked the essay, but I finished the class with an A.

I imagine Metro Tech’s Writing Center works much the same way. Even people who plan on writing for a career sometimes need a little extra help fine-tuning their skills. It can be very helpful to have someone else critique an essay. Often writers get so attached to the way they have written something that they may not realize there is a better way.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll one day be reading the blog of a Metro Tech student to get your education news. — Veronica Jones

Afterschool essay contest

Students of all ages are being encouraged to grab a pen and paper or to sit down at the computer and show off their writing skills. To celebrate Arizona’s Centennial and the national Lights on Afterschool Celebration, the Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence is holding an essay competition. Anyone from kindergarten to 12th grade who participates in an Arizona-based, out-of-school program is welcome to try his or her hand at essay writing.

There are three prompts students must base their essays on:

-       I am proud to live in Arizona because…

-       Young people are important to Arizona’s future because…

-       My vision for Arizona in the next 100 years is…

The essays are not expected to be the lengthy things you see graduate students working on. For grades K-4, essays should be 50-100 words, for grades 5-8 it should be 100-250 words, and for grades 9-12 it should be 500-750 words. (This post is already almost 150 words…it’s easy!)

The organization will select 100 essays for publication, which will debut at the Annual Afterschool Awards of Excellence Luncheon on Wednesday, November 9th at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.

The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence is an organization that provides resources for all sorts of afterschool programs around the state. Around my house alone there are over 60 different programs listed for students to get involved in from doodling to the Boys and Girls Club.

Afterschool programs give students a great chance to expand their minds beyond what they might learn in the classroom. Even if it’s just playing a sport, students learn about teamwork, dedication, and gain physical fitness. A student may be told in class that teamwork is important but they actually learn the concept when they use it while passing the ball in a soccer game.

Essays are due by May 27th, 2011 by mail or in person to: Voices of Afterschool, Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence, 112 North Central Avenue, Suite 700, Phoenix, AZ 85004. Students can register online.

Hands-on experience for aspiring teachers

Photo courtesy of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University is offering a program called iTeachAZ in partnership with school districts around Arizona. The program allows future educators to switch back and forth between their roles as teachers and student as they get the hands-on experience essential for success.

Aspiring teachers are given the chance to work and participate fully in Arizona’s school districts. The supervised program provides the experience teachers need to gain master’s degrees and enter the field while giving them the opportunity to create relationships with staff and administrators at schools where they may someday work.

Anyone who already has a bachelor’s degree and who is interested in the elementary school teaching world is encouraged to get more information and join the program.

The next information session, for the Deer Valley Unified School District, is at 5pm Tuesday, April 12, at Mirage Elementary School, 3910 W. Grovers Ave. in Glendale.

For more information, call 623-258-9431 or visit the ASU site.

New all-girls public charter high school opening

Girls in the Valley can say, “No boys allowed!” with confidence as the first all-girls public charter high school opens in August.

The Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona (GLAA) will open its doors for the fall semester with hopes of developing some of the future’s greatest leaders.

The 20,000-square-foot campus, located at 715 W. Mariposa St. in Phoenix, will be a place where girls can come to prepare for college without some of the distractions and social pressure of a typical high school.

The new school has an agreement with Phoenix College so that students will have the opportunity to start taking college courses as early as ninth grade.

The girls will be taught using a special curriculum — so special that Oprah Winfrey herself has approved it for use in her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. The “Girl Meets World” curriculum focuses just on girls, how they learn, how to make sure they stay true to themselves and how to keep them on a path to success.

There aren’t enough pages in the world to write about how much pressure girls are under in Western societies. Girls have “America’s Next Top Model” flashing paper-thin models across the screen, while boys are drooling over these “perfect women” they see on TV. I go to Arizona State University and, trust me, I have seen the types of girls that typically turn guys’ heads. They aren’t usually the ones staying in on a Friday night to get some homework done.

Research and articles have been published discussing what kinds of problems successful women have in the dating world. Even in my Marriage and Family Relationships class, the textbook tells me that if I want to have a successful career, I better be prepared for a man who isn’t OK with that.

Sociologists say that some men feel threatened by a woman in power. Traditionally, it was the man who was the breadwinner in the family, but the times are changing. Now that it is very normal to see just as many women in a college class as men, perhaps the successful working woman will have better luck. Traditional roles are becoming much less common and schools like GLAA aim to give the world a steady supply of strong, intelligent and confident women who will be successful in their careers and relationships.

Some girls need a learning environment where social pressures don’t seem so scary. They need teachers and role models they can look to so they believe that success is a good thing and something that every girl deserves.

GLAA was brought to the Valley by Florence Crittenton of Arizona, a nonprofit that has worked with Arizona girls for more than 100 years to give them safety, hope and opportunity. With this new project, the organization hopes to give girls who might not financially have the option of attending an all-girls private school the chance to learn in a unique atmosphere. — Veronica Jones

Free McDonald’s breakfast for AIMS students

It’s that time of year again. The weather is warming up, spring training has sprung and Easter is around the corner. One more thing  comes with this time of year: AIMS testing.

The high-stakes testing for grades 3 through 8 begins Monday, April 11. To help give students a boost, McDonald’s restaurants in Phoenix and northern Arizona will offer students a free breakfast — an Egg McMuffin® and a milk or small orange or apple juice — from 6 to 9am, while supplies last. The child must be present and all students must have an adult present.

Research has shown the that eating breakfast enhances student performance in the classroom. According to WebMD, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Kids who eat breakfast have more energy and improved memory, test scores, attendance and mood.

Find your closest McDonald’s.

Gilbert Public Schools fundraising events

Students from Ashland Ranch Elementary School add some color to posters to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

As the economy starts to turn around, schools are putting a big focus on fundraising in the coming weeks. The Gilbert Public School district is holding several upcoming events to benefit everything from the Gilbert Education Foundation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Be sure to check out these events to see how you can help Gilbert Public Schools help others:

Make-A-Wish Bingo Night

After holding a “Wish Wash” on Saturday, March 26, Ashland Ranch Elementary School is hoping to raise $10,000 this year for the Make-A-Wish Foundation to make their overall contribution $100,000. On Friday, April 1, from 6:30p.m. to 8p.m., students and staff will be holding a Bingo Night for the public in the school cafeteria with snacks and prizes to be won.

Gilbert Education Foundation Spring Dinner

On Friday, May 6, at Villa Siena, the Gilbert Education Foundation will be hosting their 10th Anniversary Gilbert Education Foundation Spring Dinner. As Gilbert Public Schools students present the entertainment and music for the night, guests will also enjoy dinner, an awards presentation, cocktails and a silent auction. The night begins at 6p.m. at Villa Siena, 890 W. Elliot Road, Gilbert. Nominations for Administrator of the Year, Staff of the Year, and Classroom Educator of the year must be submitted online by March 31.

Hoops for House of Refuge

On Friday, April 1, students will be treated to more than just a basketball game between Greenfield Junior High and Highland Junior High. They will also get the chance to help families in need of a new home. For $3, fans from both schools can cheer on their schools while all donations go to House of Refuge, a non-profit that provides housing and services to get families back on their feet. Shirts for the game will also be available to purchase for $8 before the game (which includes your ticket) or $10 at the door. Tip off is at 5:00p.m. in the Highland High School’s gym.

No Child Left Behind leading kids to jail?

Several organizations have come together to argue that the No Child Left Behind Act, the education mandate created nearly 10 years ago to improve American schools, actually makes things worse.

NCLB actually contributes to the growth of the school-to-prison pipeline, according to a paper presented by six groups — the Advancement Project, Education Law Center – PA, FairTest, The Forum for Education and Democracy, Juvenile Law Center and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

The paper claims that standardized tests involved in the NCLB system are a huge detriment to students, especially those who are already at risk, including members of minority groups and students with disabilities. Because the standardized tests are so generalized, students who have special learning needs are set up to fail. Frustration and low self-esteem lead some of these kids to turn to undesirable extracurricular activities, sparking an increase in students being put in the juvenile or criminal justice systems.

The paper suggests several solutions Congress should consider to solve the problem. The first is to “create a stronger, more effective school and student assessment and accountability system capable of recognizing multiple forms of success and offering useful information for school improvement.”

This seems to make sense to me. Maybe one student is able to write the most amazingly imaginative and descriptive stories but cannot memorize the facts and figures for a history exam. Is he or she a bad student because of this? Not necessarily. People have strengths in all different areas. We see this in everyday life. Some people balance budgets, some people design homes and some write blogs for magazines. No one can do everything well. That’s why people gravitate toward careers that emphasize their strengths.

When I was in elementary school in Canada, report cards graded us in many different areas. They were broken down by subject, but then each school subject was split up into a couple of categories. For example, English would be the subject but it was broken down into Writing, Reading, and Oral Communication. Students received a letter grade for each of these categories so parents, students, and teachers could see where strengths lay and where improvement was needed. Comments beside the subject gave a good indication of how each child was doing. Compare the Ontario report card to what your child receives.

The second suggestion from the paper is to “provide funding and incentives aimed at improving school climate, reducing the use of exclusionary discipline, and limiting the flow of students from schools to the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” This would mean spending more money to bring schools psychologists, counselors, and nurses to support at-risk students. If it is evident that the child has a troublesome family life, maybe talking to a school counselor about it could help them express their distress before they resort to acting  eout because they feel so frustrated. Unfortunately, this idea is expensive, particularly for districts in rough neighborhoods where many children have problems outside of school.

An acquaintance who teaches eighth grade in a tough neighborhood was talking to me as he headed home to work on his lesson plans. There was a hopelessness in his voice when he told me a lot of his students will end up in prison. I’ve never been in his class but I suspect it’s not his teaching that is the problem.

We’ll have to wait and watch to see how NCLB ends up. There are definitely problems with the country’s education system but does anyone really have a foolproof plan? — Veronica Jones

New learning environments: oceans, savannas, and wetlands

Isaiah Jolly, 12, a seventh-grader at Arizona Connections Academy (ACA), explores Biosphere 2. (Photo courtesy of ACA)

Which is more fun: sitting at a desk reading a textbook that describes exotic fish on a coral reef or a lion in the savanna…or watching tropical fish swim by and a lion go about its daily routine?

For the students of Arizona Connections Academy (ACA), a recent visit to Biosphere 2 in Oracle presented them with the opportunity to see many exotic environments up close.

Biosphere 2 is a 3.14-acre facility modeled after the original biosphere, the earth. It is the home of five different ecosystems including ocean and coral reef, mangrove wetlands, tropical rainforest, savanna grasslands and a fog desert. Through a very complicated system of air, temperature and moisture control, Biosphere 2 can maintain these environments very much like they occur in nature.

ACA, a tuition-free virtual public school, gathered 140 students for the trip. Students were able to get up close and smell the ocean, something one doesn’t often experience living in Arizona.

Students at Kyrene School District have paired up with the Phoenix Zoo to create Project Zoo Lab II: Return to the Savanna. As part of the project, after-school students are given a live video feed from the Phoenix Zoo, hosted by Liesl Pimentel, manager of education and formal programs at the zoo.

Close to 1,200 students are involved. Every Thursday afternoon, students are presented with a 25-minute live video feed from Pimentel as she shows students the construction of the savanna exhibit, entertains the kids with silly lectures and interviews zoo staff. For the remaining 35 minutes, students work on building their own savanna exhibit model to be shown off during Zoo Day.

The first session is an introduction to get students thinking about how they will create their own exhibits. The following sessions focus on:

• getting to know your animal
• replicating your animal’s natural habitat
• animal viewing and the guest experience
• animal night houses
• behavioral enrichment
• education and programs

Pimentel conducts a live chat going during the broadcast so she can ask questions and get immediate answers from the teachers in the classrooms. “Even though I can’t see into the classroom, I can get a sense of how the classes are reacting to and comprehending the information,” she says. “I hope it makes the students feel more directly connected with me as well.”

While it’s not an African safari, the experience gives students a chance to think critically about something they would normally never get to do. How many kids do you know that who have built homes for giraffes?

“The answers and feedback students provide, along with questions they pose through the broadcast chat, make it easy to see that they are thinking critically and applying the information from the broadcasts to their classroom exhibits,” says Pimentel. “When those moments become obvious to all of us involved in the broadcast, we can’t contain our excitement either. You’ll find us smiling and hollering, “They’re learning!! They’re really learning!”