Elementary Schools Offer Quality Education

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The challenge to be met in all Payson elementary schools, at Tonto Basin and in Pine is to uncover the funding to continue the successful programs that have helped make Rim country schools some of the finest in the state.

But, principals and teachers at the schools are not always content to maintain programs already in existence -- they are constantly testing new offerings they hope will meet the needs of the diversity of students who attend the schools.

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Green Valley Park was overrun with angels and eagles, fairies and dancing flames in July 2003, when students from Julia Randall Elementary School became part of a Caribbean Carnival Village. Pictured are two of the performers, Jacob Cluff and Chris Gould, in the production "Songs of Music, a Festival of Fantasy."

Payson Elementary School

At Payson Elementary School, where some of the highest AIMS scores in the school district are being scored, principal Roy Sandoval identifies after-school academic intervention programs as fundamental to student success.

"They are a real key," he said. "They are challenging and fun and address specific needs of certain students."

The programs, which help prepare youngsters for the AIMS tests, are designed for students experiencing academic difficulty and new students who require remedial help.

The school also is continuing to implement a phonics-based, systematic approach to reading and spelling.

Also at PES, the school offers a successful Accelerated Reading program and has trained teachers in the Step Up to Writing program.

Its AR program has proven to be especially successful.

"There's no doubt students are reading independently, more than ever," Sandoval said.

PES also has improved its environmental studies with the addition of an outdoor classroom ramada as well as a digital weather station connected to the library and school server.

The goal of PES, Sandoval said, "is to provide a school with a positive climate and culture that is conducive to parents and community in partnering with the school to provide the best education possible for each child."

Frontier Elementary School

At Frontier Elementary School, principal Gail Gorry identifies the Credit for Kids Tax Program, federal grants and cookie sales as essential to the education of the students.

Gorry continues to use Credit for Kids tax money to fund the after-school Wolf Impressions art programs that have proved to be very popular with the students. She also uses the tax money to fund other financially strapped programs that would go by the wayside if it were not for Credit for Kids.

Last year, Gorry received a $97,000 one-year grant from the Carol M. White Foundation. The money has been used to hire a PE specialist to develop a curriculum for the school.

Due to budget constraints, physical education classes were discontinued at the elementary schools two years ago.

According to Gorry, the PE specialist, Rich Ormand, has been able to generate a curriculum that classroom teachers can use this school year and next if the upcoming budget override vote does not pass.

Gorry also is in the process of applying for a grant from the Beaumont Fund of America that would fund all PE programs in the district.

"The curriculum would include health, education, nutrition and fitness," Gorry said.

Proceeds from cookie sales and fund-raisers are often used to purchase classroom printers and update technology needs.

Band, chorus and strings classes are offered this year and will be continued next school year if the override is successful.

Gorry predicts that with the many in-school and after-school activities that are ongoing, "FES students will be achieving their best ever."

Julia Randall Elementary School

At Julia Randall Elementary School, Principal Ardyth Potter supplements strong academics with an extensive after-school program that is funded by Title I and Credit for Kids.

When children returned to the school March 22, they could choose from a long list of after-school offerings including remedial reading, remedial math, quilting, scrapbooking, fishing, advanced science, model-car building and rock climbing. The JRE gym has a rock wall that "is the only one in Payson," Potter said.

Students also have the option of enrolling in band, chorus or strings.

When school opened last May and a "Back to School Night" was held at JRE, it turned into one of the most successful ever.

"We had about 80 percent of our students and parents show up," Potter said.

Last school year, PTO used money raised to install new equipment on both school playgrounds and build a student garden.

The curriculum this school year included Accelerated Math in third through fifth-grade classrooms.

"We originally were just going to do it for fourth- and fifth-grade only but found the money to do third (grade)," Potter said.

Tonto Basin School

Principal Johnny Ketchem has overseen a number of changes in the physical plant at Tonto Basin Elementary School, but what he's most proud of is the pleasant and safe environment he and the staff have been able to provide for the students.

He credits the improved environment to a positive discipline program that is used by the entire staff.

As the school's attendance has slightly increased, discipline problems have decreased, Ketchem said.

"We are all proud of the changes the last few years have brought to our little school," he said.

Among the changes that are occurring is the continued expansion of the Accelerated Reading program which, Ketchem says, "was a huge success last year."

Accelerated Math also was added to the curriculum and teachers have received training in the Step Up to Writing program.

In the new cafeteria, breakfast and lunch programs are in place for the second year.

"The cafeteria staff has done a beautiful job of creating nutritious and exciting menus," Ketchem said.

According to Ketchem, the biggest change last year was the realignment of grade levels to aid in the achievement of the benchmark goals set forth in the Arizona State Standards. Kindergarten and first grade were placed together in a new classroom. Second and third grades are taught collectively as are fourth and fifth.

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes were aligned to allow Tonto Basin to pursue a middle school concept.

The goal of the school staff, Ketchem said, will be "to continue to be committed to the pursuit of excellence for our students."

Pine-Strawberry Elementary School

Some of the best news coming out of Pine and Strawberry is that a sports field located on the west side of the school has been constructed. The field now provides students with a facility where they can play all types of games and participate in PE and recess activities. Credit for Kids tax dollars funded the construction of the new field.

The school's student government also is working on projects that will improve grounds and facilities.

An automated computer system in the library is new this year, which allows students to check out books without delay.

According to principal Kathe Ketchem, volunteers Jean Bean and Bette Kelly, along with teachers Shelley Randall and Jane McDonald, helped in the automation of the school library.

Academically, the primary grades (one through three) continue to participate in the Parents and Teachers Student Success (PATSS) program, which is designed to improve reading and math skills.

In grades four through eight, the students are involved in similar studies, known as the Academic Program (AP).

The school year has been rewarding and successful, Ketchem said, mostly because of the "outstanding Pine Strawberry School staff."

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