Category Archives: afterschool programs

Obama honors Arizona program

Hopi High School student and composer Jordan Lomahoema

Arizona sophomore Jordan Lomahoema of Keams Canyon, Hopi Nation in Arizona was at the White House recently as First Lady Michelle Obama recognized 12 arts and humanities programs that have produced positive outcomes for youth. Each program is part of a larger after-school or out-of-school program.

Lomahoema, a 15-year-old student who attends Hopi High School, was there representing the Grand Canyon Music Festival’s Native American Composer Apprentice Project, one of 471 nominated programs.

Youth who participate in the project “study with professional composers and ensembles, traversing the entire compositional journey” from inspiration and notation to performance and recording of their work.

Lomahoema has been involved with the project since 2010. His first work as an apprentice composer was a two-minute piece he titled “A Darkened Heart,” which “traced the events of the night his mother lost her life in a car accident.”

Grand Canyon Music Festival created its Native American Composer Apprentice Project to “nurture the musical talents of Native American students, to provide them with the tools they need to develop their own compositional voices, and to give them a platform for their voices.”

The project provides “a challenging, empowering artistic experience” for students who are “isolated through geography and marginalized by the dominant culture.” More than 3,000 Hopi and Navajo reservation youth have participated in the project since its inception in 2001.

The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, first presented in 1998, is administered by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. It’s presented in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Winning programs will receive $10,000 and a year of communications and capacity-building support. Click here to learn more about the 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program, and here to learn more about the Native American Composer Apprentice Project.

– Lynn Trimble

Recreational math

A few weeks ago I saw an article in the New York Times, “How to Fix Our Math Education.” The authors suggest replacing the theoretical teaching of math with applicable math. “The truth is that different sets of math skills are useful for different careers, and our math education should be changed to reflect this fact,” mathematicians Sol Garfunkel and David Mumford wrote in their op-ed piece.

Most people never need to solve the quadratic formula or use complex numbers, so why do we spend so much time teaching so many children math skills they will never use? Sounds rational.

The authors suggest “teaching relevant problems that will lead students to appreciate how a mathematical formula models and clarifies real-world situations.” Again, entirely rational and reasonable. Perhaps if people understood math better on a relevant, everyday basis, fewer people would have signed mortgages they could never pay. (I have no proof of this, but I can’t help fantasizing about a couple ridiculing a mortgage broker proposing ludicrous terms.)

Kari Kling teaching a Math Mania class in her home.

I started teaching in 1993 at Aztec Elementary School in Scottsdale. One of the lead teachers responsible for designing the school, Kari Kling, is an expert at making curriculum relevant to students based on how their brains develop. She understands that awareness of the brain development in children should be driving what is presented in the classroom.

In 1997 she published a book called It’s Not About Math, It’s About Life. It relates math to the real world, where it belongs. The authors of the Times article would probably approve of her approach.

Kling says, “We use the language of math to communicate about something in real life. Numbers aren’t just random, they stand for things.” She teaches a class called Math Mania “to teach kids about numbers as a foundational piece so they understand math when it gets more complicated. Kids need to have real experiences with numbers. If they hear something weighs 14 pounds they need to know what 14 pounds feels like.”

When I taught third and fourth graders, we were learning about the Titanic. They read that the doomed ship was 882 feet long. I asked if that was bigger than a football field. Some said yes, some said no. I told them a football field was 300 feet, goal line to goal line. Silence. One kid who understood numbers said, “The Titanic is almost three times the size of a football field?” He was stunned. I asked if they thought the Titanic would fit on our playground. Some said yes, some said no.

Dice for generating sums.

The next day I brought my 100-foot extension cord to measure the playground. By the time we had got to 882 feet, they had a clear sense of how big the Titanic was. Teachers call this number sense and it is what Kling focused her second and third graders on. What good is manipulating numbers in an algorithm if there is no understanding what those numbers mean?

I went to Kling’s house a few weeks ago to watch her teach a Math Mania class for second and third graders. She had the kids come up with as many ways as they could to add two numbers to make 10 as a short cut to adding large columns of numbers. She calls this “bridging to 10.” It yielded a pattern as pictured in the photo at left. Hopefully the student will see the numbers on the left go from 1 to 9 and the numbers in the middle are 9 to 1 and apply this pattern for any sum.

Then they rolled two or three dice and added the numbers to discover what combinations the dice yielded. They kept track of the sums on a chart. In a subsequent class they would analyze which sums came up the most often, which pairs of numbers came up and why.

The kids were all doing math but they were playing with numbers and playing with dice and writing about the activities in their journals. It wasn’t more “kill and drill” of worksheets or page after page of problem sets. They were playing with numbers in their heads, on paper and with other kids.

There are parents who think math doesn’t need to be fun, it has to be learned. But these are kids, and kids — and adults, really — remember things that are fun because so many parts of their brains is being stimulated all at once.

Plus, it’s better to think of math as fun than as a chore.

Story and photos by Daniel Friedman

Students keep track of what number combinations and sums they roll.


SRP funds new math, science programs

Salt River Project has donated a total of $124,000 to implement special programs that support math and science education in 29 Arizona schools.

Recipients of Learning Grants by SRP are schools representing elementary through high grades all across the state. Grant funding will enable robotics and engineering courses and clubs, water testing and analysis, ecological conservation programs, gardening projects and more.

Below are just a few examples of the incredible programs being developed at a few of the recipient schools.

Photo courtesy of St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary.

Avondale. St. Thomas Aquinas will implement a program in which students will learn about the role water has played in Arizona’s history, work with water-saving devices and show their parents and fellow students what they’ve learned at a Water Conservation Awareness/Science Night.

Photo courtesy of Verde Valley Montessori.

Cottonwood. Verde Valley Montessori will now have a garden space at the Cottonwood Community Garden. Through the Life Cycle of a Garden Project, students will test soil, chart plant growth, prepare a meal from their crops and donate surplus of the harvest to a local food bank.

Fountain Hills  

Fountain Hills High School engineering students will construct and equip a solar-powered, fully robotic and automated astronomy observatory on the roof of the school’s science building with live Internet video feed. The district’s teachers will have access to the system to use as a teaching tool in their own classroom, and astronomy classes at Fountain Hills High School will also use data and images from the observatory for their own research projects.


Gilbert Elementary will combine social studies and science to create a year-long theme that will incorporate the study of water throughout Arizona’s history. Students will use GPS devices for geocaching treasure hunts, study Theodore Roosevelt Dam, visit the Desert Botanical Garden and more, ending with a “Water Night” for parents and community members.


The Cesar Chavez High School robotics team students will compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge (beginning level robotics engineering), FIRST Lego League (intermediate level robotics with an emphasis on climate connections), and FIRST Robotics Competition (an expert level engineering competition involving improving the functionality of a robot system). They will also mentor elementary school students interested in learning about engineering.


Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona math and biology students will gather ecological and hydrological samples from the Nina Mason Pulliam Audubon Rio Salado restoration area in Phoenix. They will compare their data to 2008 data to determine changes in the habitat and hydrology, and will present their findings.


Mountainside Middle School sixth graders will lead a campaign for an energy-free day – “Lights Out Day” – to raise awareness about renewable technologies and saving energy. They will participate in several data analysis activities to determine the cost and energy savings for one day of no-energy use.


Desert Vista High School’s Engineering Academy students will participate in the Shell Eco-Marathon and design hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles. They will design and build three test vehicles with the goal of acquiring the highest miles per gallon, comparing different designs, constraints, and materials.

Find the complete list of recipients here. SRP annually gives more than $1.3 million in  contributions to educational programs and partnerships that provide teacher training, mentoring and hands-on learning. For more information, visit

SUSD Preschool expands to south Scottsdale

Last year, the Scottsdale Unified School District moved its preschool, the Early Childhood Campus Cholla, to what used to be the campus of the Cheyenne School in north Scottsdale.

This year, the preschool will expand to include a second location, the Early Childhood Campus Oak, on the existing Sierra Vista Academy campus at 7501 E. Oak St. in south Scottsdale.

Before- and after-school programs are offered at both two locations. The Oak Street campus will also include a Head Start program, a no-cost childhood development program for families in need. Tuition rates will remain the same for infant through pre-K students (ages 1-4).

The preschool will subdivide by age group into three programs, all of which will be taught by certified teaching staff:

The Toddler Program (ages 1-2) promotes early learning, as well as social and physical development.

The Preschool Program (age 3) explores such subjects as introductory literacy, mathematics, science at an age-appropriate pace and level and social and physical development.

The Pre-Kindergarten Program (age 4) aims to prepare each child with the cognitive tools they need to begin kindergarten, with a special focus on developing essential language skills for reading and writing.

About 50 children are expected to fill the new campus’s six classrooms, which will open for school on Aug. 8.

Applications and registration are currently available online at For more information, contact Carla Partridge at 480-484-6223 or — Sadie Smeck

Awarding all-star educators

There is nothing more critical to a child’s education than passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic teachers and school staff. With this school year coming to a close, now is the time to nominate those staff members you and your child consider exceptional.

Excellence in Teaching

The Arizona Educational Foundation is seeking nominations for Teacher of the Year, to recognize public school educators from pre-K through grade 12 who stand out as leaders within their schools and the community at large. An extraordinary teacher should demonstrate strong commitment to helping students perform at their best, and unparalleled talent for engaging students that is recognized and admired by students, parents and colleagues alike.

The winning teacher, to be chosen in November, will receive much more than a plaque and a handshake. He or she will be awarded $20,000, a laptop computer and a full scholarship to earn a master’s or doctorate degree in education at Argosy University. Additionally, the winning teacher will have the opportunity to compete for the honor of National Teacher of the Year, and to meet President Barack Obama!

Anyone who knows a deserving candidate for Teacher of the Year is welcome to submit a nomination, and outstanding teachers are free to nominate themselves as well. Nomination forms are available online at, or by email at, and will be accepted until August 5.

Excellence in Afterschool Programs

The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence is seeking nominations to recognize outstanding afterschool programs and staff across Arizona. The 2011 Afterschool Awards of Excellence include individual, program, and leadership categeories. On Nov. 9, a luncheon will be held to recognize those voted most exceptional in the state.

Nomination forms are available online at through June 15.

If your child had a great year in school thanks to  a superstar teacher or awesome afterschool program, please take this chance to thank those who worked to make it possible all year long! — Sadie Smeck

Everyday heroes at Glendale Elementary School District

News from the Glendale Elementary School District:

Photo of Erik Parry and student courtesy of GESD.

Band teacher Erik Parry has a full schedule. Teaching classes at both Horizon and American schools is more than enough to keep him busy. But his passion for music lead him to offer free guitar lessons to fourth and fifth grade students at Horizon after school on Mondays.

“I figured I might get 20 kids to show up,” Parry said recently. “But they just kept coming, and coming, and coming.”

Parry never turned one student away.

It is because of this extraordinary effort that Parry — along with 49 other Glendale Elementary School District volunteers, parents and employees — will be honored at the inaugural GESD Everyday Heroes Award ceremony Wednesday, May 18.

Parry, who is in his first year with GESD, uses lessons and a book he developed to teach students how to play the guitar. By color coding the strings, his students begin to learn the fundamentals of guitar and music. The color codes are a set up that will allow students to play at higher level later on. They also lead to greater music knowledge. Color coded strings will give way to letter notes, and finally to sheets of music. Students play and solo throughout the class, and by the end of just two classes many of the students were able to play two or more songs.

“I just want them to be successful,” Parry says. “Success fixes everything. It keeps them playing and it keeps them coming.”

Others being recognized include:

Carlos Olivas, Jr., a seventh-grader from Don Mensendick school, who raised more than $2,000 at his school to benefit Francisco Felix, an Arizona resident in need of a liver transplant;

Virginia Ramos, an administrative secretary from Glenn F. Burton School whose efforts have increased parent participation at the school;

Connie Carpenter, a parent at Challenger school who serves on her school’s site council, and was instrumental in revitalizing her school’s parent group;

Cynthia and Mike Huerta, parents from Discovery Elementary School, who have volunteered innumerable hours as members of the school’s parent group;

Louise Jones, a 17-year volunteer at Sine and Coyote Ridge schools;

Tony Clemente, a prevention specialist from Desert Spirit whose intervention strategies have improved student behavior;

Sara Frentz, an art teacher at Isaac Imes, who not only works tirelessly in her classroom, but also has coached several Imes teams, and has organized her school’s annual Spring Fling arts celebration.

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.

“JA You’re Hired!” preps students for career success

Students gave their best efforts to impress as the pros narrowed the field.

For high school students, work and college is just around the corner. Does your child know how to create an online brand using Facebook or Twitter? Does he or she know the steps for starting a business? On Wednesday, 400 Valley teens competed in the third annual “JA You’re Hired! Challenge” to exhibit their knowledge in these and other areas and show that they have what it takes to stand out above the rest.

Junior Achievement of Arizona gathered students, teachers, and community business leaders at the Arizona Biltmore for a day of networking and preparing for the future.

The day was broken up into several different sessions as the sharply dressed high school students from around the area showed off job readiness skills they had learned from the “JA You’re Hired!” curriculum. The morning began with a Networking Challenge, where students worked on striking up conversations to find success in their careers.

“Helping young people develop the skills to successfully enter the work force and be able to own their own future and decide what their future is going to look like — I think it’s very powerful for all of our students,” said Joyce Richards, president of Junior Achievement Arizona.

In the following hour, all students participated in various Business Communications Sessions. In a very interesting challenge called Thinking on Your Feet, students were given the opportunity to learn the keys to creating a perfect “30 Second Commercial.” A panel of experts told students what it is people look for during first impressions.

Betty Ann Ritter, a business banker from Wells Fargo, was a member on this panel. “You have 30 seconds to make your first impression so you want to be confident, not only in your voice but your stance, your body, your voice,” said Ritter.

“My favorite part is just seeing the growth potential, the level of growth the students already have and just seeing the potential that they are capable of,” she added.

Students gather around tables with business professionals to show off their interviewing skills.

After hearing from the panel, students were given the chance to volunteer their 30 Second Commercials. Many of them were encouraged to watch their “uhs” and to make sure they use complete sentences, instead of creating run-ons with the word “and.”

Karishma Deshpande, a Hamilton High School student, is taking Business Management Technology through JA. I watched her compete in one of the Think on Your Feet challenges where she was presented with an ethical work dilemma and had to quickly come up with an answer that pleased the judges.

From left: Marcie Hendricks of Basha High School and Karishma Deshpande and Manar Ghannam of Hamilton High School wait outside of the interview challenge.

“You’re getting a lot of feedback,” said Karishma of what she described as the Miss America-type situation.

The next round was Interview Sessions, where participants competed to become the best interviewees. With about five or six students at a table, they were interviewed by business pros who then narrowed it down to the students they felt did the best job.

Many of these companies will be looking to hire summer interns. Karishma was extremely hopeful about being able to snatch one of these opportunities. “It shows that you did something right and also getting the experience is good. It’s always great to learn feedback,” she said.

The “JA You’re Hired!” curriculum is filled with information about job aptitude and competence, business networking, work readiness skills and entrepreneurship. A student may be great at reading or writing but if he or she can’t talk their way into a job, they could have a long, difficult road ahead.

“They’re developing those effective communication skills…starting to develop the confidence to strike up a conversation with a stranger, who may be the very individual who might be able to guide them toward a job opportunity,” says Richards. — 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!”

Grants for teachers keep music alive

Musical education played a huge part when the Peoria Educational Enrichment Foundation granted $35,000 to several different teachers across the Peoria Unified School District. The money was given to teachers who had come up with innovative ways to make their teaching more interesting and effective for students.

Many public school music programs have been pushed out of the way in past years because of budget cuts and increased focus on core academics. These teachers have found creative ways to keep their music classes going strong.

Robert Vagi, from Ira A. Murphy Elementary School, says that music allows children to express themselves in ways math and social studies cannot. “Through the arts, students can learn to express themselves, appreciate beauty, find joy and, most importantly, discover that both they and others are human and therefore deserving of respect,” Vagi says. “Education in math, reading, science, and social studies are essential but it’s important to remember that even Einstein played the violin.”

Robert Vagi helps Bilind Nasrullah (foreground) Autumn Mattison and Tabitha Mattison (in headphones), record a song.

Vagi hopes to get more equipment so more students can record during class time.

Autumn realizes how difficult is to keep a beat simultaneously on tophat, snare and bass drum.

Bilind Nasrullah surprised Vagi yesterday with his improved ability to add a few beats on the bass drum. He had been practicing on his own.


With his grant, Vagi will buy more software and equipment to produce music with his class. In a previous year, he created Murphy’s Hip Hop Club, where students are taught to express themselves through hip-hop music. The group has its own YouTube channel and released a CD last year. Perhaps with this money another CD will be coming out soon.

Jacob Boyd at Sunrise Mountain High School received a grant to create a fully functioning recording studio on the school’s campus. Students will be able to see the way the pros do it in the music business as they practice for what could later become a career choice.

J.J. Rafferty at Cactus High School seems to have a more old-school approach in mind. With his grant money, he will be buying 15 new acoustic guitars and instruction books to create a new class that students can take for credit.

Zona Mielke at Heritage Elementary School is taking a technological route in her music class. Her grant money will go toward buying a SMARTboard, an interactive “white board” that works like a computer screen the whole class can see. Teachers can roam around the classroom while they teach and have their lessons appear on the board, instead of being stuck at the front of the class (which leads some students to stop paying attention). Musical rhythms and harmonies will appear on the board and she will work with her students to interpret them.

Daniel Jensen of Liberty High School will use his grant to fund music production equipment including a new computer loaded with music software that offers music assessment, music recording and editing, music notation and interactive marching practice software.

See related story.Veronica Jones