“Thank you science teachers!” yelled Jeff Scanson, from the Payson High School (PHS) maintenance staff.
The teachers and their students waved in response as they walked back to their classrooms. Each carried big, dark bags full of trash they had picked up from around the perimeter of the campus, including the sidewalks and streets along Longhorn, McLane and Wade.
This day represented the first in what PHS physics teacher Andrew Fiala hopes to be many more years of giving back to the community in gratitude for its support for kids through things like Credit for Kids donations.
“This idea for community service came to me slowly, but originated from my experience down in the Caribbean,” said Fiala.
He took a year off of teaching physics in Payson to explore teaching in another country. He ended up staying on St. Johns in the Virgin Islands.
Down there, the Caribbean government only pays for schools up to the eighth grade. If parents wish for their children to continue through to the 12th grade, they have to live on an island that has a high school — usually a private school that charges tuition.
Fiala worked at one such private high school for a year. Each student had to pay in excess of $14,000 to attend school — a real financial hardship for families.
To help, the school sought financial support from donors. Many of the students could only continue their educations because of donations by the community.
“As I returned to Payson last year, I noticed the similarities between the islands and our small community,” said Fiala. “Students in Arizona are on the bottom end of spending per pupil as compared to the national average, but our community continues to support our students and their education through donations to Credit for Kids.”
In fact, last year, the Payson community donated, $300,000 in Credit for Kids money to support sports, music, drama, art and schools. The district spends nearly $1 million annually on such extracurricular programs, with almost all of the money coming from the tax write-off program, fees, ticket sales, fund-raisers and other donations.
People who donate to Credit for Kids receive a tax credit of $200 per person — or $400 for a married couple.
Credit for Kids money buys most of the instruments band kids play. Credit for Kids also pays for summer school classes crucial to helping kids graduate, sports equipment and science equipment. Payson schools could not offer most of the district’s extracurricular activities without those dollars.
“As all of this became apparent to me, I wanted to show the community that we were thankful for what they have done and for the support that they continue to provide,” said Fiala. “A way of saying ‘thank you’ manifested itself in the PHS Science Gives Back day. The idea is to show the community our appreciation by cleaning up the streets surrounding the campus.”
The kids found a ton of stuff to clean up.
They found thousands of cigarette butts, “which take 10 to 12 years to decompose and are made of plastic, not cotton, contrary to popular belief,” said Fiala.
They also picked up hundreds of aluminum candy wrappers, dozens of plastic bottles, several socks and even a few shirts. The students found a cast-off sewing machine, a soda can from the olden days of pull off pop tops, and most disturbing of all, a syringe.
‘The syringe was definitely the most eye-opening item found on campus,” said Fiala. “The syringe was placed in a receptacle and disposed of by staff.”
The group estimated they gathered more than 200 pounds of trash in just three hours of work.
Autumn Parrish, a senior in Fiala’s physics class, was excited when she heard the idea of cleaning up to give back to the community.
“I was really excited when I heard we would do this,” she said. “I always take time to clean up and I tell my friends to pick up trash because I’m so against littering.”
Fiala said most of his students had positive things to say as well.
“I had students that worked hard and wanted to have their own trash bag so that they could see just how much of a difference they were making,” said Fiala. “After coming back in from our efforts outside, I had students that enthusiastically declared that they had worked all period and found some gross things. I am really proud of my students and all the students of the science department that made a positive difference with their efforts.”