Charter leaders sacrifice to see dreams become reality

By Jamar Younger

When Nick Schuerman reflects on the fact that he’s responsible for the education of the 225 children who attend his school, he is nearly moved to tears.

Schuerman opened Victory Collegiate Academy, a K-6 public charter school, this month in Phoenix’s Maryvale neighborhood, fulfilling his dream of providing a quality education to underserved students.

“I’m seeing the fruits of my labor. It’s here now. I have to sit back and pinch myself,” he said.

Lori Weiss and Melissa McKinsey experienced a similar feeling when they welcomed almost 300 students to Synergy Public School, their brand new central Phoenix campus, which also opened this month.

These schools started as a kernel of an idea just three years ago, but have grown into the manifestation of their founders’ dreams.

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Beyond survival, charter students build a plan for living in space

By Jamar Younger

“Why not me?”

That’s the question 12-year-old Ruth Cox asked herself before gathering a team to compete in a STEM competition, the Honeywell Fiesta Bowl Aerospace Challenge.

“My oldest brother won the final competition and my other brother made it to the finals, so I always assumed that I would do this,” said Cox, a sixth-grade-student at Challenge Charter School in Glendale. So she called her close friends and fellow sixth graders, sisters Emily and Catherine Taylor, and Ada Stanley, and asked if they wanted to create a team: Team R.A.C.E, one letter for each of their names.

The girls spent six months researching gravity, various methods for growing plants, and other topics, as well as plenty of writing and model building. The goal: build a base on Mars moon Phobos where astronauts could survive in space and conduct experiments, but still live comfortably.

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Central Phoenix charter school creates a blueprint for academic success

By Jamar Younger

For Judy White, the decision to open Midtown Primary School in a low-income community in Central Phoenix wasn’t just a choice, it was a calling.

White and co-founder Belinda Suggs sensed a need for quality education and community involvement in the neighborhood when they opened the K-4 public charter school in 2002.

Although the idea of opening a public school serving students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds would deter some educators, White and Suggs stared down the challenge and sought to figure out how to succeed with that population.

The task of creating a high-achieving school in a low-income neighborhood has puzzled many educators, but the two administrators have seemed to find the right pieces for success at their small public charter school.

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Mary Ellen’s Story

How A Charter School Education Expanded Opportunities for an Arizona Student-turned-Teacher

Mary Ellen Lee knows firsthand about the flexibility and innovation that have become a hallmark of charter schools.

Lee is the daughter of a charter school principal, a product of choice as a charter school student, and now is an innovative charter teacher who provides her students with the same high quality education she had as a child.

“I think the exciting thing about growing up in a charter school is that I experienced so much diversity. Instead of going to a school that was bound by location, I went to a school that was bound by interest,” she said.

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Carl’s Story

Carl Vasil followed his calling when he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an Airborne Ranger.  After his discharge from the military, Vasil now serves his community as a highly respected teacher at BASIS Goodyear. Find out how Vasil combines the leadership skills learned in the military with his passion for Physics to reach students at the Arizona charter school.

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Sun Valley’s Story

How a Mesa Charter School Renewed the Hope in its Students’ Lives

While some say Sun Valley High School is a place for “bad kids,” the real story of the school and its students is one of revived hope.

It’s a place where students who were once on the verge of dropping out are now making the honor roll and joining the National Honor Society.

It’s a place where students who were once bullied for their appearance and lifestyle have now found acceptance, gained confidence and overcame anxiety.

Many of these students have been cast aside as they struggled with homelessness, teen parenthood, adjudication, working to support their families or just not being able to adjust to a traditional large high school.

But they’ve now found teachers and staff at their East Valley charter school who push them to succeed, show genuine concern for their lives, and accept all students, no matter their circumstance.

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Gala’s Story

How an East Valley Charter School Inspired One Student to Think Globally

Gala Palavicini arrived in the United States last year hoping to learn how to navigate the college application process so she could attend school in this country.

Although she took important steps towards achieving that goal, her most important lesson occurred while she was enrolled as a high school senior at Paragon Academy, a K-12 public charter school in Chandler.

As a resident of Chandler, a Phoenix suburb, with an international background, Palavicini, 19, was a perfect fit for the school, which has a student body representing more than 15 different countries, including France, Sudan and El Salvador.

However, the school’s diverse population didn’t just allow her to feel more comfortable; it taught her that all students are connected regardless of background or country of origin.

“I never quite understood that there’s a whole world out there that we should learn about,” said Palavicini, who graduated from Paragon in May and still volunteers at the school a couple of times per week. “The good thing about Paragon is we have people from all over the world.”

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Mexicayotl’s Story

How one Nogales charter school helped students see their own value.

About 20 years ago, Baltazar “Balty” and Veronika Garcia realized something was amiss in the Nogales community where they both taught high school students.

Many of their students brimmed with potential, but seemed to lack a sense of identity and enough support to push them towards greater possibilities.

The Garcias wanted to change the trajectory of these students’ lives, and knew it had to start in kindergarten.

Arizona’s budding charter school law was in its infancy when the Garcias decided to help improve the outcomes for students on the border, opening Mexicayotl Academy of Excellence in 1998.

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Bringing Light to a Community

Roberto Castillo understands the dangers that can lurk behind dark corners, alleys and other hidden spots in his neighborhood.

About three years ago, Castillo, who lives in Maryvale, and his cousin were robbed as they were walking home after playing soccer.

“As we were walking home, these two guys were behind us. We didn’t notice because it was kind of dark,” he said. “In no time at all, they just dropped us to the ground and grabbed anything they could.”

That experience motivated him to search for ways to improve safety in his neighborhood and eventually collaborate with two like-minded students in his social entrepreneurship class at Western School of Science and Technology: A Challenge Foundation Academy, a public charter school in Maryvale. Western opened in 2014 as one of the inaugural schools in the New Schools for Phoenix program, which aims to increase the number of high quality schools in Phoenix’s urban core. The school serves grades 7-10 and will grow to serve seniors by 2018.

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Alexandrea’s Story

Only a few months into her freshman year, Alexandrea Barajas was a high school dropout. Barajas was a promising student, but her life was in flux as she endured a childhood marked by a turbulent relationship with her parents, frequent moves to different homes and an unending concern for her younger brother and sister’s well-being. Then her charter school principal intervened, issuing a simple challenge: break the cycle. Find out how a south Phoenix charter school helped Alexandrea overcome life’s obstacles to forge her own legacy.

Here is her story.

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