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.