Celebrating Arizona’S 100th Birthday Tonto Basin School Style

Kinsey Speer (grade 3), Ryleen O’Conner (grade 3) and Nick Munoz (grade 2) busily work on their poster about the Arizona Centennial. They will present their work to the class at the end of the day.

Photo by Andy Towle. |

Kinsey Speer (grade 3), Ryleen O’Conner (grade 3) and Nick Munoz (grade 2) busily work on their poster about the Arizona Centennial. They will present their work to the class at the end of the day.



Annetta Carpenter leads the school in singing happy birthday to Arizona while holding a cake in the shape of the state. Each of her middle school students created a graphic to put on a T-shirt.

Tammy McLellan’s kindergarten class turned to listen to the fourth- and fifth-graders recite Marshall Trimble’s narrative describing the five C’s of Arizona’s history — copper, cotton, cattle, citrus and climate.

“My class turned around when the fourth- and fifth-graders said the five C’s, they thought I made that up,” laughed McLellan.

On the stormy morning of Feb. 14, Arizona’s 100th birthday, Tonto Basin school children and many of their parents gathered to celebrate the centennial together.

A short 40 minutes away from Payson, the 80-student rural school of Tonto Basin is worlds away from the larger district. Because of the family atmosphere of the school, little touches, like cookies decorated with the star emblem of Arizona connect each student to the theme of the day.

“The food service director ordered the copper cookies,” said Mary Lou Weatherly, principal and superintendent of the school. “All kids receive one, even the preschoolers.”


Jordan Kile presents facts to the whole school during the Reader’s Theater portion of the opening ceremonies to celebrate Arizona’s Centennial at the Tonto Basin School.

A rural school has advantages and disadvantages compared to a larger district. With the smaller class size, school administrators and teachers have the chance to know each child.

However, the lack of a larger student body means the school can’t support a music or a full sports program.

Yet for Arizona’s 100th birthday, the students of this small school benefited from its size.

The day opened with a flag ceremony and then Lynda Nixon’s fourth and fifth grade class presented Marshall Trimble’s narrative of Arizona’s statehood. Standing in front of the student body, the fourth and fifth grade class related the history of the state and elaborated on one of the five C’s of Arizona — cattle, cotton, copper, citrus and climate.


Julian Lugo and Jacob Thompson (grade 3) decide which sections of The Arizona Republic newspaper to cut out for their Centennial posters.

“Arizona produces enough cattle to feed 4.2 million people,” said one of Nixon’s students.

“The Arizona Citrus Growers Association reports 21,000 citrus acres,” said another.

“Arizona has tourist areas such as the Grand Canyon,” said a third.

Parents lined the benches along the wall to listen proudly to their students and snap pictures. Each of the other classes listened respectfully, except the preschoolers who spent most of the time fidgeting.

The community came together to create this school. Instead of passing a bond to raise money to build the school, Tonto Basin residents dug into their pockets and donated time and resources to create the school of today.

Built with the idea that the community could use the gym for larger community events, the room acts as the central plaza to each of the elementary school rooms.

The assembly finished with everyone singing happy birthday to Arizona over a cake baked into the shape of the state.

Breaking out of the assembly, the elementary students went back to their rooms to spend the remainder of the day working on projects to help them understand the state they live in.


Lanae Laurias shows the class with her hands how the Saguaro cactus flower opens up.


The Arizona Game and Fish Web site gave her suggestions on classroom projects. Detlef Hilprecht (grade 1), right, listened to the lesson on Saguaro cactus flowers.

In Lanae Laurias’ first and second grade combo room, the students watched as their teacher used a smart board to display the state animals and vegetation of Arizona.

“The state flower of Arizona is the Saguaro cactus flower,” said Laurias, “Do you know how long it stays open?”

One student answered, “12 hours?”

“Not quite,” said Laurias, “It stays open 18 hours — long enough for a bird or butterfly to pollinate it.”

The students then drew a flower and added a few facts about the plant to the picture. Laurias got the idea for the project from the Arizona Game and Fish Web site which has a whole list of possible classroom projects.

In Kari McCleskey’s third and fourth grade combo room, she had her students break into groups of five to create a presentation about the centennial using pictures and articles from The Arizona Republic newspaper.

At the end of the day, each group created a poster with the state facts to present to their classmates.

The group with McKayla Taylor, Kinsey Speer, Nicolas Munoz, Mayzee Taylor and Raylene O’Conner divided up their poster. Each student took a square to decorate.

“We decided to let each of us tell about our square,” said McKayla.

By the end of the month, McCleskey hopes to have a time line of Arizona’s history up outside her classroom.

In McLellan’s kindergarten class, the students sat at their desks filling in boxes with pictures of Arizona’s five C’s.

They have been working on projects with the five C’s for the past two weeks.


Kayla Cline (grade 2), right, focuses on drawing a replica of the Saguaro cactus flower for her study on the official state plants of Arizona.

Outside the classroom, a bulletin board proudly displayed the kindergartners’ projects that integrated math into the history project, such as putting 10 cotton balls on 10 squares, which helped to illustrate the concept of counting by 10s.

And now they know the five C’s actually exist.


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