IN THIS SPECIAL SECTION, you’ll learn about the unique effort in Arizona to recognize the good work put forth by many of our public schools. From teacher excellence awards to the buzz of spelling bee winners, K-12 education in Arizona has much to be applauded for. Plus, get familiar with the ever-increasing cost of secondary education and the variety of ways to pay for it.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: How One Arizona Nonprofit is Fulfilling Its Destiny
Their names are well-known in Arizona: Carolyn Warner, Eddie Basha, Bill Shover. What many don’t realize is the legacy that these three education advocates and philanthropists created when they co-founded the Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF) back in 1983.
It was Warner’s idea. As Superintendent of Public Instruction, she was struck with the way public schools were often negatively portrayed in the media. She often remarked that the only time a school made the news was when something bad happened. Warner saw the way that public schools took in any child, regardless of how big that child’s needs were, and how teachers and administrators worked tirelessly to support the students they served. She felt public schools deserved to be celebrated and teachers needed to be shown respect.
Carolyn Warner reached out to long-time friends Eddie Basha, the grocery store magnate, and Bill Shover, who at the time was editor-in-chief of the Arizona Republic. She had an idea. Warner wanted to found a nonprofit that would change the narrative about public education; one that would be non-partisan, non-political, and would showcase the excellence being done in public schools.
Almost forty years later, the legacy of Warner, Basha, and Shover lives on through AEF. With programs that reach over 500,000 students, teachers, and administrators each year, there is no other organization in the state more prestigious than AEF in terms of the excellence that they recognize.
AEF’s mission is profoundly unique, coordinating some of our state’s highest recognition events for educators including the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards, A+ School of Excellence, and the Arizona State Spelling Bee, all of which are launching pads for national recognition. The Arizona Teacher of the Year goes on to be our state’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year; A+ School of Excellence awardees often become National Blue Ribbon Schools; and the Arizona Spelling Bee champion goes on to compete for the ultimate title at the Scripps National Bee.
“Spotlighting the amazing work of public schools is an honor,” states Kim Graham, executive director. “If there is one thing 2020 has shown us, it’s that public schools are the nexus of their communities, providing not just learning opportunities, but food, medical care, nurturing, and safety. That kind of dedication deserves to be recognized and celebrated.”
The Arizona Educational Foundation is a nonprofit.
To donate, or learn more, visit azedfoundation.org.
Spotlighting the amazing work of public schools is an honor,” states Kim Graham, executive director. “If there is one thing 2020 has shown us, it’s that public schools are the nexus of their communities, providing not just learning opportunities, but food, medical care, nurturing, and safety. That kind of dedication deserves to be recognized and celebrated.”
— Kim Graham, Executive Director, AEF
How to pay for college
Over the past 20 years, college costs have risen more than twice the rate of inflation. For many parents, funding their child’s college education will be one of their largest and most significant expenses. Saving money for your child’s college education requires foresight and planning. There’s never a bad time to start saving. There are investment options that will help you prepare for college whether it’s a few years away or a generation away. Talk to a financial partner to ensure you make the decision that is best for you.
A 529 Plan is similar to a 401(k) or an IRA. The plan is designed to provide a parent, grandparent or other caregiver an opportunity to save for a child’s educational pursuits within a tax-deferred savings vehicle. Savings in a 529 plan grow free from federal income tax, and withdrawals remain tax-free when used for qualified higher education expenses. These include tuition, fees and books, supplies and equipment required for attendance or enrollment; certain room & board costs; computers and internet service; and certain special needs expenses. Savings may also be used for tuition expenses at eligible public, private, and religious primary and secondary educational institutions (K-12).The state of Arizona offers one of the most diversified 529 plans in the country. Benefits include:
• Qualified distributions are exempt from federal income tax
• Qualified distributions are exempt from Arizona income tax for Arizona taxpayers
• College savings plans are offered through multiple providers and include choices of CDs, mutual fund options, and age-based portfolios
• Contributions to accounts grow on a tax-deferred basis
• Assets are not considered when determining Arizona financial aid awards
• Savings can be used at most accredited public or private universities, colleges, and vocational schools in the United States. Some apprenticeship programs and foreign institutions are also eligible
• Anyone can make contributions
• Ability to begin saving with as little as $15 a month
• Can change account beneficiaries at any time
Because money is the most important school supply of all.
Financial aid programs made available and funded by the federal government, the State of Arizona, and various private organizations include:
Grants are forms of financial aid that do not need to be repaid. Grants are typically provided to students from limited-income families and are need-based in nature. There are a variety of grants available to eligible students, including Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG).
Loans are federally or privately funded sources of assistance that must be repaid with interest at the conclusion of a student’s college attendance.
Scholarships are granted to students and are often based on performance in a particular area such as academics or sports.
Work Study – This type of program provides jobs for students who have applied for financial aid and are eligible to work as part of their financial aid award package.
Arizona Spellers Pave the Way for a Bright FutureOne Letter at a Time
Can you spell “breviary?” Eleven-year-old Omkar Bharath did to win the Arizona State Spelling Bee. Bharath, a student at Desert Canyon Middle School in the Scottsdale Unified School District, is one of hundreds of thousands of Arizona students who compete in spelling bees each year. Coordinated by the Arizona Educational Foundation, the Arizona Spelling Bee is one of the largest programs in the nation, with an estimated 300,000 students competing statewide each year.
• Spelling bees are a great American pastime. First established in 1925, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has been held every year since, with the exception of 1943-1945 due to World War II and in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Research shows that learning to spell and learning to read rely on much of the same underlying knowledge — such as the relationships between letters and sounds. Not only do spelling bees teach students how to correctly spell and pronounce words, they also build self-confidence and experience with handling the stress of competition. According to Keith Southergill, director of admissions for Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, spelling bees are among the extracurricular activities that colleges look for on student applications.
• Arizona Educational Foundation’s State Spelling Bee Coordinator, Matthew Feller, points out that spelling bees start at the classroom level, with student winners then going on to win grade-level bees, schoolwide bees, district bees, and then county and regional bees. In Arizona, 27 students from every corner of the state ultimately advance to the State Spelling Bee finals. The Arizona Educational Foundation provides a prize package for the Spelling Bee champion, including an all-expense paid trip for the winner to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.
For more information on the Arizona State Spelling Bee or to find out how you can sponsor a Spelling Bee, please visit azedfoundation.org/spelling-bee.
Excellence in Arizona Public Schools
It’s a rare rainy day at Kyrene Traditional Academy as principal Marianne Lescher greets students as they slosh into school. One of the first things you notice about Kyrene Academy is the many A+ School of Excellence banners lining the walls. “We are very proud to be an AEF A+ School of Excellence,” beams Lescher, “To not only be named an A+ School but to hold the designation for many years is validation for my entire staff and our school community that our hard work is not in vain.” A The A+ School of Excellence Award is one of the many ways the Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF) celebrates public education. The Award program showcases outstanding public schools who are doing “ordinary” things in extraordinary ways.
• The A+ program is a powerful energizer for increasing public confidence in recognized schools, often resulting in greater parent and community involvement. Being named an “A+ School” even serves as an economic driver for some communities. “We frequently see districts or local municipalities touting the number of A+ Schools they have as a way of driving enrollment or attracting new industry to communities,” stated Kim Graham, AEF executive director.
• While the name contains “A+,” part of the beauty of the program is that it showcases the full scope of how schools are serving students and communities. To be eligible for the A+ School of Excellence Award, schools can actually be designated “A” or “B” schools according to the Arizona Department of Education’s grading scale.
• Why allow “B” schools in a program promoting excellence? Graham says it’s simple. “Schools are more than test scores. Academics are obviously vital, but A+ Schools take normal every day practices and exhibit truly outstanding strategies for responding to students’ needs, retaining teachers, rallying community support, and providing school climates that are brimming with opportunities.” Graham notes that a school can have excellent test scores,but miss the boat in other areas.
• “Applying to be an A+ School of Excellence was one of the best professional development and growth experiences I had with my staff,” says Brett Bonner, Assistant Superintendent of Sahuarita Unified School District, and former principal of Homer Davis Elementary. “The application process is rigorous,” notes Bonner, “but that’s how you know when you receive the award that you’re among the best of the best.”
• Over 200 schools throughout Arizona currently hold the title of A+ School of Excellence.
To view a list of list of schools or learn more about the program, visit azedfoundation.org/a-schools
A+ Schools in Arizona
as rated by Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF). Schools maintain their rating for a 3.5 year period.
Anthem School, Anthem
Aprende Middle School, Chandler
Arizona Charter Academy, Surprise
Arizona College Prep Erie, Chandler
Arredondo Elementary School, Tempe
Arrowhead Elementary School, Glendale
Audrey and Robert Ryan Elementary School, Chandler
Basha Elementary School, Chandler
Booker T. Washington Elementary School, Mesa
Carrillo K-5 Communication and Creative Arts, Tucson
Centennial Elementary School, Tucson
Chandler High School, Chandler
Chandler Traditional Academy – Freedom Campus, Gilbert
Chandler Traditional Academy – Independence Campus, Chandler
C.I. Waggoner Elementary School, Tempe
Cienega High School, Vail
Circle Cross Ranch K-8 STEM Academy, Florence
Copper Creek Elementary School, Glendale
Desert Shadows Elementary School, Scottsdale
Desert Willow Elementary School, Tucson
Diamond Canyon School, Anthem
Emerson Elementary, Mesa
Empire High School, Tucson
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado Elementary School, Nogales
Gateway Pointe Elementary School, Gilbert
Gowan Science Academy, Yuma
Kyrene de la Mariposa, Tempe
Kyrene Monte Vista Elementary School, Phoenix
Kyrene Traditional Academy, Chandler
Lincoln Elementary School, Mesa
Litchfield Elementary School, Litchfield Park
Longview Elementary School, Phoenix
Mary C. O’Brien Elementary School, Toltec
McDowell Mountain Elementary School, Fountain Hills
Mesquite Elementary School, Tucson
Palm Valley Elementary School, Litchfield Park
Pantano High School, Tucson
Park Meadows Elementary School, Glendale
Pima Butte Elementary School, Maricopa
Playa del Rey Elementary School, Gilbert
Ramon S. Mendoza Elementary, Mesa
Rogers Ranch School, Laveen
Sequoya Elementary School, Scottsdale
Shadow Ridge High School, Surprise
Shumway Leadership Academy, Chandler
Sirrine Elementary School, Chandler
Sonoran Sky Elementary School, Scottsdale
Towne Meadows Elementary, Gilbert
Valley Vista High School, Surprise
Ward Traditional Academy, Tempe
Wildflower School, Goodyear
Zedo Ishikawa Elementary School, Mesa
Acacia Elementary School, Phoenix
Basha High School, Chandler
Centennial High School, Peoria
Constitution Elementary School, Phoenix
Deer Valley High School, Glendale
Desert Sky Middle School, Tucson
Elgin School, Elgin
Estrella Mountain Elementary School, Goodyear
Eugene Field Elementary School, Mesa
Fruchthendler Elementary School, Tucson
Greenfield Jr. High School, Gilbert
Irving Elementary School, Mesa
James K Zaharis Elementary School, Mesa
John and Carol Carlson Elementary School, Chandler
Kyrene de la Colina Elementary School, Phoenix
Kyrene de la Esperanza Elementary School, Phoenix
Kyrene de la Paloma Elementary School, Chandler
Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary School, Phoenix
Kyrene de las Manitas Elementary School, Tempe
Laguna Elementary School, Scottsdale
Madison Camelview Elementary School, Phoenix
Mansfeld Magnet Middle School, Tucson
Maurice C. Cash Elementary School, Phoenix
Meridian Elementary School, Mesa
Mountain Pointe High School, Phoenix
Mountain Ridge High School, Glendale
Rancho Gabriela School, Surprise
Red Mountain High School, Mesa
Redfield Elementary School, Scottsdale
Sandra Day O’Connor High School, Phoenix
Senita Valley Elementary School, Tucson
Sierra Verde STEM Academy, Glendale
Sonoran Trails Middle School, Cave Creek
South Valley Jr. High School, Gilbert
T. Dale Hancock Elementary School, Chandler
Tartesso Elementary School, Buckeye
Trailside Point Performing Arts Academy, Laveen
Vail Academy and High School, Tucson
Verrado Elementary School, Litchfield Park
Verrado Middle School, Litchfield Park
Zuni Hills Elementary School, Sun City
Benson High School, Benson
Cherokee Elementary School, Paradise Valley
Clarendon Elementary School, Phoenix
Connolly Middle School, Tempe
Crismon Elementary School, Mesa
Desert Vista High School, Phoenix
EDUPRIZE SCHOOLS – Gilbert, Gilbert
Elvira Elementary School, Tucson
Flowing Wells High School, Tucson
Francis M. Pomeroy Elementary School, Chandler
Gilbert High School, Gilbert
Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary School, Chandler
Horizon High School, Scottsdale
Islands Elementary School, Gilbert
Jefferson Elementary School, Mesa
John M. Andersen Elementary School, Chandler
Kyrene de la Estrella, Phoenix
Kyrene de los Cerritos, Phoenix
Kyrene de los Lagos Dual Language Academy, Phoenix
Mabel Padgett Elementary School, Goodyear
Marshall Ranch Elementary School, Glendale
Metro Tech High School, Phoenix
Oak Tree Elementary School, Gilbert
Osborn Middle School, Phoenix
Patterson Elementary School, Gilbert
Perry High School, Gilbert
Rattlesnake Ridge Elementary School, Tucson
Rio Rico High School, Rio Rico
Santa Fe Elementary School, Peoria
Santan Elementary School, Chandler
Santan Junior High School, Chandler
Stapley Junior High School, Mesa
Superstition Springs Elementary School, Mesa
Tavan Elementary School, Phoenix
Villago Middle School, Casa Grande
Walden Grove High School, Sahuarita
Walter Douglas Elementary School, Tucson
West Wing School, Peoria
Willie and Coy Payne Junior High School, Queen Creek
One day you’re just working in your classroom with your students, and the next you’re suddenly catapulted into the spotlight and everyone wants to know who you are and how you will make a difference”
— Michelle Doherty, Teacher of the Year, 2017
The STEM Pipeline: Building Arizona’s Teaching Workforce
When is the first time a student hears the term “STEM” or learns about STEM careers? Typically, from a teacher. While Arizona is a bustling hub for technology, engineering, and biomedical industries, public schools throughout the state are unfortunately struggling to find and retain science and math teachers. As a state, how can we hope to fill STEM career vacancies when we lack the teachers needed to inspire students to pursue STEM? One organization, the Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF), has devised a creative and promising solution called “teachSTEM.”
• teachSTEM is unique from the start. It is designed and led by Arizona Teachers of the Year, award-winning master educators who serve as STEM Coaches. AEF also coordinates the Arizona Teacher of the Year program, so leveraging the talents of these outstanding educators for a program like teachSTEM was a “no-brainer,” according to AEF executive director Kim Graham.
• teachSTEM works by pairing a Teacher of the Year with a high school that offers the Career and Technical Education program “Educators Rising.” Students enrolled in Educators Rising are 9th-12th graders who want to become teachers. Through teachSTEM, students learn about the need for STEM teachers and the critical role teachers play in motivating students to pursue STEM as a career. Students are also taught STEM workforce skills such as robotics, DNA testing, 3-D printing, engineering, etc. and also get to learn from Subject Matter Experts like Intel engineers or doctors from the Mayo Clinic.
• Educators Rising National has research that shows that 60% of all teachers end up teaching 20 miles from where they themselves went to school. “teachSTEM is a direct investment in our state’s education workforce,” stated Graham. “Our hope is that these students will return home to their own Arizona neighborhoods to teach.”
• AEF launched teachSTEM in 2019 in four schools and hopes to expand the program to fourteen schools for the 2020-2021 school year.
For more information on donating to teachSTEM or volunteering as a Subject Matter Expert, visitazedfoundation.org/teachstem.