The movers and shakers of Payson's education, business and government communities met midweek to lay the groundwork for an academic program that could better prepare students for life after high school.
The program, Arizona Academic Scholars, begins this spring when local business volunteers and educators meet with Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade students to encourage them to take advanced courses in high school.
"The volunteers will discuss careers, wages and how employers value education," said Anna Osborn of Arizona Business and Education Coalition. "Business and education leaders will also work together to create academic supports and arrange scholarships and other rewards for students successfully completing the program."
Judy Miller of the Small Business Development Center, Don Engler of the town of Payson, Louis Adams of the chamber of commerce, Sabrina Campbell of the Tonto Apache Tribe, Greg Day of Macky's Grill, and Payson Schools Superintendent Herb Weissenfels assembled Wednesday at Macky's Grill to discuss the implementation of the program.
Joe Randolph and Sharon Holleman from the Center for State Scholars were also in the day-long meeting.
Following opening remarks by Weissenfels and Miller, Randolph and Holleman moderated a workshop that detailed how the Arizona Business and Education Coalition will collaborate with the Payson Unified School District to bring the Arizona Academic Scholars program to the Rim country.
Randolph said that the scholars program is an effort by area businesses and school volunteers to encourage students to complete challenging courses during high school.
The scholars' curriculum gives students the foundation they need to succeed in future educational and business goals, Randolph said.
Also, he added, the program is based on the philosophy that passing an academically challenging course is better than earning a higher grade in an easier course.
Presenters also said the program encourages students to stick with and earn better marks in higher education, which makes them more marketable, and more likely to get better-paying entry-level jobs and have stronger lifetime earning potentials.
Payson High School students who enroll in the Arizona Academic Scholars program must pass with a C grade or better:
- Four credits of English;
- Three credits of math through Algebra II;
- Three credits of social studies;
- Three credits of lab sciences including biology, chemistry and physics or a physical science, and;
- Two credits of a foreign language.
Weissenfels has said he believes many students have the ability to take more rigorous courses, but choose not to because they are more interested in acing easier classes that help maintain grade point averages or they're simply not motivated.
The scholars' program in Payson is partly funded by a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
In Arizona, four school districts received the grants, including Peoria, Snowflake Unified, Tucson's Flowing Wells and Payson Unified.