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Best Schools 2010
August, 2010, Page 106
Hillcrest Middle School, Glendale
Deer Valley Unified School District
Special-needs students can include pupils with minor learning disabilities to severe mental retardation, but they’re not made to feel excluded at Hillcrest Middle School, a public school near 67th Avenue and Deer Valley Road.
Encouraging more interaction between special-needs students and the general student body is a priority at this state-labeled “excelling” school, where special education and regular teachers “team teach” language arts, social studies, science and math to special education and traditional students in the same classroom without publicly identifying students’ needs. Both students can ask either the special-education or traditional teacher questions regardless of their needs.
Some classes are self-contained, meaning only special-education students attend them if they need more intensive help and instruction. But all special-needs students spend at least some class time with traditional students, with the amount of time depending on their needs and abilities.
Hillcrest had 87 students with identified special needs last school year out of about 1,125 students altogether. As is required under federal law, individualized education plans are developed for special-needs students based on their goals and how to meet their needs.
“We have so much inclusion,” says Principal Dannene Truett. “We really do not have taunting and bullying and pointing out that these kids are different.”
Other standouts: New Way Learning Academy, Scottsdale; Rudy G. Bologna Elementary School, Chandler
Photo by Sam Nalven
The Scottsdale Preparatory Academy archery team takes aim during a springtime practice in the parking lot of the school.
Scottsdale Preparatory Academy, Scottsdale
Robin Hood would have fit in well at Scottsdale Preparatory Academy, which teaches students discipline and upper-body strength through the school’s archery program.
Students at this charter school of roughly 380 must participate in an athletic activity after school because the academically rigorous curriculum doesn’t leave room for a physical education class during the school day, says outgoing athletic director Rick Fitzgerald. But rather than simply encourage students to try out for the typical sports, Fitzgerald launched the archery program two years ago through the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP).
“It’s one more thing that isn’t so mainstream that still provides a lot of the positive aspects of a team sport,” he says.
The 32 archery athletes, all sixth- through 10th-graders, practice behind the school, aiming at targets 10 and 15 meters away. Students practice once a week with the option of practicing twice a week, if they prefer. Each practice lasts about an hour and a half.
Student Erin Vander Maten, 12, won the individual girls elementary school division at the NASP Arizona State Championship in April. And Grant Harris, 13, took first place in the individual boys’ middle school division. The school’s middle and elementary school teams took third place.
The school also offers the standards: football, boys and girls basketball, soccer, cross-country, track and field, and other sports.
Other standouts: Bourgade Catholic High School, Phoenix; Mesa High School, Mesa
Photo by Sam Nalven
At Explorer Middle School in Phoenix, eighth-grade Media Production students produce and star in the morning news show EMS Live, which is streamed live online.
Explorer Middle School, Phoenix
Paradise Valley Unified School District
Students at this middle school are more tech savvy than the adults on campus, says Principal Marianne Bursi. And with the futuristic facilities and curriculum offered, it’s no wonder.
This “excelling” school is a training site for Paradise Valley High School’s upcoming Center for Research in Engineering, Science and Technology (CREST), which will offer biotechnology laboratories, engineering classrooms, and a prototype fabrication laboratory to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Before they get there, however, Explorer Middle School students learn to build websites, make movies on Mac wireless laptops, use hand-held Apple iTouch devices to send data onto SMART Boards in class, and produce and star in daily news shows that get streamed online.
Students in Gen YES (Youth and Educators Succeeding) classes have completely revamped the school’s website.
Next school year, 220 students will take an extensive pre-engineering class using resources from the nonprofit Project Lead the Way (PLTW), which partners with middle and high schools across the nation to offer rigorous, hands-on programs to nurture future engineers. Through the program, students will have access to new computers, computer-aided design software, LEGOS and other materials to help them design and create scientific models, learn how science affects technology throughout history, play with electricity, explore flight and space, and evaluate methods of reducing energy consumption.
Other standouts: Carl Hayden Community High School, Phoenix; Orangedale Junior High Prep Academy, Phoenix
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