Category Archives: awards

Phoenix Suns name scholarship recipients

Sixteen high school seniors from throughout Arizona have been named winners in the Phoenix Suns Charities’ SunStudents Scholarship program.

Taylor Sanders of Desert Ridge High School was named winner of the Kevin Johnson Scholar Award and will receive a $5,000 scholarship. Each of the 15 other students will receive a $2,000 scholarship. The funds can be used to defray educational expenses at any college or university they choose.

The announcement was made at halftime during Monday night’s Suns-Trail Blazers game at US Airways Center.

This season marks the ninth year the Kevin Johnson award has been presented. The scholarship, named for the Suns’ former All-Star point guard Kevin Johnson, was created in recognition of Johnson’s retirement and honors the spirit of learning and community service espoused by Johnson during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns.

“Phoenix Suns Charities’ scholarship committee was overwhelmed by the number of impressive applications we received this year,” said Robin Milne, executive director of Phoenix Suns Charities, in a press release. “The 16 recipients have not only displayed stellar academic efforts, but have dedicated countless hours to community service.”

More than 300 applicants from across the state were judged on their community involvement, scholastic performance, letters of recommendation and essays on overcoming adversity.

The 2012 Phoenix Suns Charities SunStudents Scholarship recipients are:

Taylor Sanders
Desert Ridge High School, Kevin Johnson Scholarship winner

Aaron Wodka
Nogales High School

Abigail Mucklow
Northwest Christian High School

Adelynn Shafer
Sahuaro High School

Brandon Shaw
Basha High School

Christina Wood
Marcos de Niza

Cole Waldren
Pinnacle High School

Dominic Hayden
Pinnacle High School

Dustin Jed Tanada
Williams Field High School

Kimberly Mitchell
Sunnyslope High School

Meera Kumar
Horizon High School

Meghan Kuebler
Florence High School

Natalie Jones
St. David High School

Nicholas Jakob
Notre Dame Prep Academy

Stephen Smith
Centennial High School

Victoria Ton
Hamilton High School

Phoenix Suns Charities makes grants to non-profit organizations that serve children and youth in the areas of education, health and human services, the arts, sports and recreation, and rehabilitation. In the 24 years since its inception, Phoenix Suns Charities has donated more than 12 million dollars to worthy Arizona organizations and individuals.


City of Xiwang takes first in Future City

Veritas Homeschoolers won 1st place in the regional Future City Competition at the finals on Saturday, Jan. 28.

Front row: (from left) Jesse Friedman, Cambrie Hickman, Rachel Fisher, and Timothy Graunke. Back row: (from left) Guest speaker Randii Wessen, Ken Ekstrom and Mary Ann Ekstrom.

Students Jesse Friedman, project manager, Cambrie Hickman, Rachel Fisher and Timothy Fraunke  created the City of Xiwang – City of Hope in Taiwanese – an island off the coast of Taiwan in the year 2162. Their display included a monorail-type system with light up balls that moved around the perimeter of the city, a marina complete with fish inside and an entire underground view of systems and energy sources.

The students were guided by engineer mentor Ken Ekstrom and teacher and sponsor Mary Ann Ekstrom, who said the kids learned a lot through their participation in the competition.

“At this point we will begin preparing for the national competition by rethinking some of the questions they were asked by all the judges, considering other questions that may be raised or asked and talking with several energy experts,” Mary Ann said in a press release.

For the competition, each student group was required to write a 1,000-word essay describing their use of an alternate energy source that would generate electric power for their city without depleting natural resources. They then gave a presentation to judges.

Link to full essay

Required to use an alternate energy source, these students chose to use hydrogen boron fusion or HB fuse. The students also explained how solar power is used for energy and light. Rooftop gardens are aesthetically pleasing as well as practical for absorbing heat and all extra energy is sold to China through an underwater cable. They also say the city also has “smart buildings” equipped with advanced communication systems and an extensive amount of night life and activities.

Veritas homeschoolers were asked, “Why use solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels and fusion as energy sources?” To this they replied that these were all readily available and could be used as backups if an energy source failed.

Garden Lakes Elementary won 2nd place, Canyon Breeze Elementary were 3rd, Colonel Smith Middle School received a 4th place award and Orangedale Junior High won 5th place. Pictures of the 2nd through 5th place winning groups were taken by volunteer and pro-photographer John Jacoby, and can be seen in his online gallery. — Amy Vogelsang

New Vistas students receive awards in Creative Expressions Contest

Four young students from New Vistas Center for Education private school received first, second and third place awards in the City of Chandler’s Creative Expressions Contest and Centennial Poster competition. The winners were announced Friday, Jan. 20, by Community Resources and Diversity Manager Leah Powell.

Alessandra Isaacson sings a song dedicated to Chandler residents, of all heritages, who miss their homeland.

This year, 1,100 children submitted entries in performance, writing and visual arts categories. First place in performance for kindergarten through fourth grade was New Vistas first grader Alessandra Isaacson. She introduced her a capella song in both Spanish and English and dedicated it to those who miss their homeland.

“The song is about missing your home and having no one around who knows you,” Isaacson said in a press release from the school. “I like to sing in front of people. It makes me happy.”

In the writing category, Sasha Guntu won first place with an essay about coming to America.

Sisters Melinda and Madeleine Chang.

In visual arts, Madeleine Chang (5) came in third with a painting of a Chandler farm and her sister Melinda Chang (10) came in second for her depiction of downtown Chandler’s Farmer’s Market.

“There are 29 different people in my picture and they are all doing something different,” Melinda said in the press release.

Melinda also won first place out of 1,500 entries in the Centennial Poster Contest.

All first place winners were congratulated and awarded cash prizes at a Jan. 23 Chandler City Council Meeting. — Amy Vogelsang

Melinda's drawing of the downtown Chandler's Farmer's Market.

Melinda's first place winning entry of the Centennial Poster Contest.

Student awarded scholarship to attend Tesseract School

Freshman Ellis Green has received the first Ruth and David Learner Scholarship from Tesseract School.

The scholarship was created in August 2011 to allow talented high school students to enroll at the private school when they otherwise would not be able to afford it.

The scholarship was awarded to Ellis because he “embodies the zeal for learning and education that was envisioned when creating this scholarship,” Nathan Learner, Tesseract School parent and board member, said in a press release.

Green participated in many academic competitions throughout middle school, including spelling bees, science fairs and Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth competitions. He also enjoys playing clarinet and piano, hiking, swimming and creating computer-aided design projects. In order to incorporate a challenging yet nourishing academic environment that also met Green’s other interests, his parents began looking for the right high school.

After an unsuccessful start to his freshman year, Green’s parents looked into Tesseract.

“Tesseract’s learning environment is ideal for Ellis – it is personal, creative, challenging and meaningful,” Green’s father, Tyler Green, said in a press release. “The start to his freshman year at another school was distressing to him. Now he comes home and describes his classes as ‘awesome’ and ‘fantastic’ and his teachers as ‘really, really there for me.’ This school has been miraculous for him.”

The Ruth and David Learner Scholarship made it possible for Green to experience Tesseract School.

“We hope he is the first of many students who will gain access to Tesseract education via the Learner Scholarship,” Learner said.

The school also offers other scholarships in a variety of areas. To learn about the scholarship program and how to apply contact the director of admissions and community relations, Scott Salk, at 480-385-3673. To learn more about Tesseract School visit — Amy Vogelsang

Front row Suns tickets for top notch educators

The Phoenix Suns and partner Grand Canyon University (GCU) are having an “Educator of the Month” program to honor outstanding teachers and guidance counselors in the Valley.

Students can nominate a teacher by filling out an application at, and the Suns will choose one nominee each month for the rest of the 2011-12 season. Winners will receive four low-level seat tickets, $50 to the Team Shop and a chance to watch pre-game warm-ups from the team bench before having a photo taken on the court.

The nominee will also have dinner in the team’s Club Annexus. The student who nominated the winner will also receive four low-level tickets, and will be able to watch warm-ups with their teacher or counselor.

Library clerk’s Millionaires Club promotes reading

Members of the Millionaire's Club. Photo courtesy of GESD.

Last week, the Glendale Elementary School District‘s Discovery Elementary School welcomed 27 new members to the prestigious Millionaires Club, where the criteria are not about dollars earned, but words absorbed.

Created by library clerk Michele Beney, the club issues a challenge to students and staff at the school: Read as many books as it takes to reach the mark of one million words or more.

The new members, along with the top five readers from every grade, were rewarded with an ice cream party put on by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization.

This year, 267 students and a few staff members accepted the challenge. Beney tallied their progress on a board in the school library. With the help of websites and some counting on her own, Beney totaled up the word counts of every book in the school library. The students and staff had until May 25, the last day of school, to break the one million-word mark. One student was admitted to the club way back in November!

Open to all ages—two second-graders were recently inducted—the challenge is a school-wide endeavor. Because lower-level books often have small word counts, Beney instituted an alternate counting system for grades K-3. “I didn’t want anyone to be discouraged, she said.

Since the October founding of the Millionaires Club, Discovery Elementary has seen a boost in library attendance, even among students whose primary interest beforehand was not reading.

“It does take extra time,” Beney says, “but if I can get one student to read more then it’s worth it.”

With luck, Beney hopes, the club’s success will translate into more books for the library. Tight education budgets make the purchasing of new books difficult, so the school is taking donated books, which Beney can exchange with local bookstores to secure what the library needs. The program is also giving the clerk an idea of what students’ favorites are. So far the leaders are the Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, as well as the creepy books of R.L. Stine.

“I’m enjoying seeing what they’re reading,” says Benney. “I’m getting to know what they enjoy and like, and that gives me plenty of ideas on what new books, if any, I can order.” – Robert T. Balint

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