Finding Science And Art In Phoenix Schools

Many, many programs are available to students throughout all Phoenix Public Schools districts. Sensing the constant need for improvements, and to keep up with national and global standards, Phoenix Schools are meeting these demands head on. For example, some Phoenix Schools have implemented innovative Science, Art, and IB (International Baccalaureate) programs.

InnoWorks, a new science program available to underprivileged Phoenix Schools middle-school students, was implemented in February 2007 by Grace Hsieh, a junior at the University of Arizona. Hsieh was looking to start a peer mentor and tutoring program when she came across a website detailing the program InnoWorks, which had its beginnings at Duke University.

Phoenix Schools middle-schoolers take part in a free science camp organized and run entirely by UA undergraduates. Twenty-four students from six Phoenix Schools were selected for the camp. InnoWorks’ leaders hope that by exposing underprivileged Phoenix Schools students to college campuses and science research, more students will be inspired to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Immediately it was easy to recognize what a great program it was, in its philosophy and vision,” Hsieh said.

Hsieh has gathered about $20,000 in donations to fund the program, recruited about 20 fellow students to work as mentors, and sought out campers by calling Phoenix Schools counselors and teachers.

Explorer Middle School recently received the Mayor’s School of Excellence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Arts Education. Integrating arts into their academic classes is one thing that makes this member of the Phoenix Schools unique.

Principal Marianne Bursi believes that the appreciation of art relates to all fields of study.

“We find students learn more by doing,” said Bursi. “The brain remembers more with visuals rather than just looking at plain old text. The [students] discover [they have] many hidden talents because art is incorporated into all their academics.”

Each quarter, seventh-graders are encouraged to take chorus, visual arts, world languages and applied technology courses. Once they are in eighth grade, these Phoenix Schools children can then choose which they prefer for the year

Phoenix Schools are beginning to offer children in Grades K-10 an opportunity to learn via the International Baccalaureate program. This is a teaching model used around the world that pushes students to become proficient in at least two languages, think critically and learn from a global perspective by studying other cultures.

Mesa Public Schools could soon become the first school district in Phoenix Schools, and one of only a handful nationwide, to offer an IB program to students from kindergarten through the end of high school.

Gregg Good, is the IB coordinator for one Phoenix Schools high school which began offering the program last year. Administrators are still determining the best way to test young Phoenix Schools elementary students in a “culturally neutral” way to decide which children will participate in the rigorous IB program for the 2007-2008 school year.

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Established Phoenix Schools Districts Losing Students

Some established Phoenix Schools districts are just a few areas in the Valley that are losing students to charter schools, private schools, and other districts. These Phoenix schools districts have for many years added classrooms and teachers to keep up with their growing populations. Now, they are experiencing decline in enrollments for various reasons.

Since funding is readily available to Phoenix schools that are in a growth cycle, the enrollment decline means loses in badly needed revenues. It also means losses in local, state and federal funding, which also are based upon the student population. This could mean millions in lost funding to the Phoenix schools.

Along with schools in Mesa and Scottsdale, the Phoenix schools are taking aggressive action. Some school districts are aggressively marketing to recruit students from neighboring districts, as well as to reacquire students who have moved to private schools. Street banners announce the start of schools in some districts, beefing up the Phoenix schools image in others.

The Phoenix schools are battling to keep their current student enrollment levels, while searching for methods to recruit more students. The Phoenix schools face increasing competition from charter schools, as well as private schools that offer more exclusivity to the Phoenix schools’ students.

Enrollment throughout the Valley, overall, continues to increase; thus, supporting the findings of an enrollment study for Paradise Valley school district by Applied Economics. They found that charter and private schools were luring students from the district at increasing rates.

The Phoenix schools districts know that new residential housing developments are planned within their districts. The problem is how to plan for such increase in student population — Will they attend the traditional Phoenix schools or opt for a charter or private school. By the time the Phoenix schools have an answer to this quandary, it will be too late to build the needed facilities. Overcrowding in the Phoenix schools already will have been felt.

The Phoenix schools are hurt further by the state law on school funding. When the Phoenix schools experience a decline in student enrollment, they lose funding. Additionally, according to this law, there is a mandated drop in how much additional funding the Phoenix schools can obtain, even through local funding sources.

Lastly, additional funding for construction and renovation of facilities that is available during a growth cycle of the Phoenix schools is nonexistent during an enrollment decline. This makes the average $8,000 per student with extra for students with various types of situations and disabilities, less than adequate for schools that already are dealing with budget and funding concerns.

Does Testing Spell Success Or Stress For Phoenix Schools?

As the fifth largest city in the United States, Phoenix, Arizona offers a sunny climate, a diverse culture and a unique set of challenges for the educators and administrators of Phoenix Schools. Addressing the needs of the large number of English as a Second Language (ESL) students, a huge proportion of low-income families, and the typical urban problems like high drop out rates, are among the issues of Phoenix Schools.

So it’s not surprising that meeting the state standards, as enacted by President’ Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act”, has severely stressed some Phoenix Schools. But what about the stress those tests put on the children of the Phoenix Schools? Controversy between some parents in Central Phoenix and the school administration resulted in a group protest outside of Indian School Elementary last week.

A small group made up of parents, students and a private counselor picketed to protest the current practice of testing elementary students of Phoenix Schools. Parents, and a former educator and counselor Jane Fendelman, claim that third to fifth grade students are over-stressed about these “high-stakes tests.” Fendelmen says the number of stressed out students in her practice has increased dramatically over recent years. This argument is not unique to the Phoenix Schools. Educators and parents nationwide have debated the benefits of testing for years.

While most states instituted some sort of the testing prior to 2002, the SAT, which is administered in 11th grade, was the main source of testing stress, and that mainly for college bound Phoenix Schools’ teens. But the “No Child Left Behind Act” ties yearly promotion to successful test results for children.

Arizona superintendent of schools, Tom Horne, has stated that, “Standards are meaningless unless you test them…. anyone who continues to be an advocate for mediocrity should get out of education….” And that is the really point of contention for all sides. How do Phoenix Schools enforce reasonable standards and produce well-rounded and emotionally stable children?

In Phoenix Schools, the point has great impact. The Roosevelt District has consistently tested below all others despite higher per student funding. Phoenix Schools currently are rated with the AZ LEARNS guidelines. These are based on the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), which compares state testing results of individual schools. Like all Arizona public schools, the Phoenix Schools use the AIMS test for both elementary and high schools students.

Phoenix Schools are given ratings of Excelling; High Performing; Performing; Under-performing; or Failure to meet academic standards. Parent concerns involve both failing schools, and the pressure to test successfully at such young ages. Educators also complain about “teaching to the test” rather than providing children with well-rounded academic instruction.

Still, it looks like the era of testing is in the Phoenix Schools for the foreseeable future. Whether the concerns of a small group of protesting parents have any impact against the pressure on politicians to “prove “ success has yet to be seen.