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communi communitty CONNECT

Vol. 2 Issue 1


Leading By Example Willow Canyon High School Track & Field Coach Rachel Guest shatters records in Masters Division


What it takes to be a D1 Athlete


Parent Perspective: Traditional Education


Community Recipe: Quinntessential Salsa!


communi communitty CONNECT


Calendar of Events for the Local Community


If These Walls Could Talk...

APRIL 2021 • Vol. 2 Issue 1


Student Voice: What It Takes to be a D1 Athlete

Editorial Staff Renee Ryon Ryan McGinley Carly McVay Ambria Brown


Rachel Guest: Leading by Example


Teacher Tips: Getting Ready for Kindergarten


Growing by Leaps and Bounds


Feature Story: Little Miss Brown


Community Recipe: Quinntessential Salsa


Spotlight: Determined to Succeed


Home is Where the Heart Is


Fun and Games: eSports in High School


A Dream in the Works: Animation Success


Parent Perspective: Traditional Education


15802 N Parkview Place Surprise, AZ 85374

Contributing Writers Aliyah Moore Jean Vogel Chelsea Hain Lily Combs Contributing Artists and Photographers Marissa LeLevier Ginia McFarland Advertising Interested in advertising with us? The Community Connect Magazine offers full page, half page, and quarter page options for each issue. Contact us at publicrelations@ dysart.org for more information on pricing and deadlines or visit dysart.org/CommunityConnect. Story Ideas? The Community Connect is always looking for story ideas and contributing content. If you know of an idea or person that should be featured, please feel free to reach out to us at publicrelations@dysart.org. About Us The Community Connect Magazine is a publication aimed at telling the stories of students, staff, and community members who make extraordinary contributions to our community. The magazine has one of the largest circulations in the Northwest Valley. The mission is to provide a publication for the community, about the community, through the support of community business advertisements.



Rachel Guest, Willow Canyon High School Track and Field Coach, poses on the school’s track after competing and winning a Masters Decathlon with an American Record.


On the Calendar:

Shine on Floyd at The Vista


Shrek: The Musical Make room for ogresized family fun as the greatest fairy tale never told comes to life in a whole new way in this breathtaking Broadway musical adaptation of the hit movie Shrek, performed by the Willow Canyon High School Theatre Group. April 15-17 @7pm and Apr 17 at 2pm Willow Canyon High School TICKETED



Teacher Appreciation Day

Surprise Day of Service Show your community pride by participating in a day of community service throughout the city. April 24, 2021 from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Various locations throughout the city of Surprise FREE


The Drifters: Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Bill Pinkney legacy group still reflects the entire Legendary Drifters presence in the music industry and weaves a blend of nostalgic magic and on-stage excitement with a 21st Century twist. April 25 The Vista Center for the Arts TICKETED

May 4 Community Wide


Events Notice:

All calendar events are subject to date, time, and location changes and/or cancellation based on local health and safety guidelines. Please check with the hosting venue and/or organization for the most up-to-date information on the event. 4 APRIL 2021

Teachers play a critical role in educating and shaping our children: the future leaders of our community. They are kind, patient, hard-working, dedicated, and understanding professionals who help mold our children and guide them in positive directions. We entrust our children with the teachers, and they affect their lives daily. Make sure to thank a teacher you know today!





Splish Splash: The Music of Bobby Darin

In this special show, Vegas entertainer Ron Gartner honors the Darin legacy… singing the songs of the swingin-est guy who ever put on a tux. May 9 The Vista Center for the Arts TICKETED



Growing Minds Summer Camp Growing Minds Summer Camp registration is now open. Families interested in signing up their children for camp during the summer should do so early, as space is limited. To register visit growingmindspreschool.org Begins June 7 17999 W Surprise Farms

Loop S Surprise, AZ 85388

Jim Breuer: Freedom of Laughter Tour

The freewheeling, New York bred comic storyteller – who made the list of Comedy Central’s “100 Greatest Standups of All Time” – is hotter than ever, a global touring sensation. A regular presence on radio and television, Breuer brings his act to The Vista! May 15 • The Vista Center for the Arts • www.TheVistaAZ.com

Local High School Graduation Ceremonies

Graduation ceremonies for Shadow Ridge, Willow Canyon, Valley Vista, and Dysart High School in the Dysart School District are tenatively scheduled to be held on Wednesday, May 19, at State Farm Stadium. The event will be ticketed and will also be livestreamed for the community. Details including times will be released closer to the event. FREE



Shine on Floyd

Shine On Floyd is a Pink Floyd tribute band from Phoenix, Arizona formed by a group of very talented musicians and singers with a love of everything Floyd! Enjoy a note-fornote show with videos, singers, and more! June 11 • The Vista Center for the Arts TICKETED



In Motion Dance In Motion Dance will offer camps over the summer and start enrolling for next year, which will begin in August. Classes currently offered are for ages 3 to 14 in acro, ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap and more! Visit www. dysart.org/IMD for more information!




Ongoing 17999 W Surprise Farms Loop S Surprise, AZ 85388 PARENTS


Driver’s Education


Driver’s education classes will be offered this summer for students who have their permit. Visit www.dysart. org/communityeducation for more information. Summer Registration PARENTS




If these walls could talk… 2020 and 2021 marked historic years for the Northwest Valley community. The City of Surprise turned 60 years old, the City of El Mirage turned 70 years old, and the Dysart Unified School District turned 100 years old. The City of Surprise has close to 150,000 residents, up from less than 2,000 when it was incorporated. The City of El Mirage is more than 35,000 strong after starting out at around 1,000, and the Dysart Unified School District began with less than 10 students and now boasts 24,000. As the area continues to grow, the community looked back at its past as a pathway to the future. The City of Surprise created a visual representation of it’s past with a History Wall commissioned by the Surprise Arts & Cultural Advisory Commission. It was designed and curated by city staff and created by artist Muriel Sawicki. The mix of words, photos and artifacts begins in 1938 with the story

6 APRIL 2021

of Flora Mae Statler founding the city and continues through 1991 when Surprise officially became a city (it was incorporated in 1960), and through the 2010s. The Dysart Unified School District marked their centennial with a variety of activities including time capsules, school events, and more digital celebrations because of the pandemic. The district highlighted its beginnings in 1920, when local farmer Nathaniel Martin Dysart wanted his daughter to attend a school. He didn’t want her to walk the five miles though, as it required crossing the Agua Fria River, which was known to flood at times. So he donated a piece of his own land, convened a three-person governing board, and officially established Dysart Public Schools on July 16, 1920. What started out as a one-room schoolhouse, serving first through eighth grade, quickly became a growing part of the community. Enrollment increased to more than 200 by 1937, when the district hired it’s seventh teacher. In 1951 the original one room schoolhouse was tragically destroyed by a fire. Despite the loss, Dysart continued to focus on educating local students, and two new elementary schools, El Mirage and Luke were built by the end of the decade. As the Northwest Valley looks to the future full of growth and prosperity, the area continues to highlight its small, community-focused birth as a pathway to the future. As famous American poet Robert Penn Warren once wrote, “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.” The cities, schools, and people of the Northwest Valley have faced historic challenges over the past year, but the future looks bright as we chart a path forward together.


SIGNS of support

In partnership with the City of Surprise, students across the community decorated signs of gratitude in honor of Veterans Day. The posters were viewable along Bullard Avenue as part of the city’s Veterans Day celebration in lieu of the parade.




D1 ATHLETE By Aliyah Moore, 12th Grader at Valley Vista High School


thletes work hard day and night in hopes of exposing their best selves. To play professionally or represent your country at the Olympics are common goals for many athletes today. My dream was to play Division 1 (D1) volleyball, and my dream came true when I committed to Illinois State University in 2019. It was not a quick journey, but with the right mindset and proper preparation, it can be easier to reach your goals. My focus has stayed on how to better myself, prepare for playing at the next level, and taking care of my body. The importance of mental health is tremendous in the sports world, and that has been my number one priority. I struggled with having a consistently strong mental game throughout competitions. However, these simple things helped me develop focus and a “D1” mentality. They include visualization the night before games, reading books on mental health for athletes, and taking the time to reflect on my performance after games. The biggest enemy in sports is your mind. Therefore, it is imperative to use positive, encouraging thoughts rather than beating yourself up. Most importantly, trust the process. Success doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistency and dedication to yourself to achieve your goals. Another aspect of a “D1” mentality has to do with physical health. Stretching, using muscle rollers, and icing after games increase your flexibility and decrease the possibility of injury. It is so important to take care of your body before and after competitions. Completely stretching your muscles out before a game makes a big difference in how you feel after. Being an outside hitter for volleyball, electronic stimulation (STIM) on my shoulder, ice baths, and yoga have become staples in my aftercare routine to ensure my muscles are properly taken care of. Diet and hydration are large contributors to your performance as well. Throughout my day I make sure to drink at least 64-96 ounces of water to be properly hydrated for practice. As an athlete, 8 APRIL 2021

you need fuel and hydration to get through the day and additional competition. Also, I cannot stress this enough, breakfast is so important. As an athlete you should never skip a meal, and personally, I snack throughout the day as well. The night before tournaments or competition I load up on carbohydrates to prepare for the next day. It’s not about how much you eat, but paying attention to what you are eating, because what you put into your body determines what you get out of it. Lastly, in the offseason, I make sure to stay in shape with runs around my neighborhood, core exercises, and upper body strengthening without weights or gym equipment. Keeping all muscle groups engaged is so important so they aren’t in shock when getting back into it. Rewatching film from the previous year and taking note of positives and negatives is also an offseason ritual of mine. Overall, to make it as a D1 athlete in my opinion, just make sure to stay engaged and positive. Give 110% in everything you do, whether it’s in school or on the court. Remember that you are a student-athlete, and school is more important than your sport. Use what you learn on the court including leadership, teamwork, and communication, and embed it into your everyday life.


Cut from the same



ane Malone, a community member and avid seamstress, has spent countless hours making and donating masks during the pandemic. She has donated more than 300 masks to local schools along with countless more masks to essential workers throughout the community. She was inspired by her nieces, who both work as nurses, to begin sewing masks last March. Since then, she produced more than 1,500 masks from her home in Sun City West and sent them to neighboring districts, food and clothing banks, hospitals, grocery stores, and to the organization, Dress for Success to provide face coverings to those that work directly with the

community. Jane summed up her inspiration to start this selfless act with her favorite quote, “Character is how you treat those that can do nothing for you.” The photo above features staff and a student from Countryside

Elementary who are displaying some of the masks donated by Jane Malone. She prefered not to have her picture displayed, as she did it out of the kindess of her heart and not for the recognition, she emphatically said.


Rachel Guest demonstrates hurdles on the Willow Canyon High School track to student athletes.

10 APRIL 2021

LEADING by example In early 2020, Track and Field athlete and Willow Canyon High School Coach Rachel Guest had her eyes set on competing at the World Championships in Toronto. She had just turned 45 and was eyeing some records in her new age group. If you don’t know Rachel, she’s got quite the resume, including being the current Women’s 35 Indoor Pentathlon American record holder, Women’s 40 Indoor Pentathlon American record holder, and the Women’s 40 Outdoor Heptathlon American record holder.



Rachel Guest raises her hands in excitement after winning an event in 2018.

12 APRIL 2021

As with many 2020 plans, hers got derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. She ended up finding a meet in Texas that would allow her to get at least one competition in that year. She entered in the heptathlon, but entries were low for the event, so they gave Guest an opportunity to enter the decathlon. “I thought, well, I’ve never done the decathlon, and I’ve got six weeks,” she says with a smile. She reached out to her throwing coach to teach her discus because she had never done it before. “She’s already a world class athlete, so with her it was just fine tuning,” said Bill Laing, Guest’s shot put and discus coach, as well as a former Willow Canyon coach himself. “We worked on a few things here and there, and the rest is just her athletic ability.” Then she reached out to a volunteer coach at Willow Canyon, Rich Franklin. “He’s a phenomenal pole vault coach,” she said. “I’ve never done pole vault so I sent him a message and said, hey, can you teach me how to pole vault in six weeks?” She ended up doing seven sessions with him, learned discus as best she could, and made a plan for the meet. “I always set goals,” she exclaims. “I always have targets. I knew that I had a chance of breaking the record. The existing record was 6,314. I was guesstimating I was going to score around 6,700 points.” She drove all the way to Texas with her gear

and began the meet. Day one was a success and she was on track for her goal. Day two she ended up vaulting a bit higher than expected, and her spirits were high. Going into the ninth event, javelin, she was a mere 161 points away from breaking the record. By the time she finished the event, she had achieved her goal. In fact, by the end of the event she scored a whopping 7,070 points. Her excitement couldn’t have been higher, achieving an American record in an event she had never done before. She posted images on social media with her accolades and received congratulations from her student athletes at Willow Canyon. But in the spirit of 2020, nothing can be simple. “About a week and a half after the meet, I found out that both the shot put and discus sectors were not in the allowable limits of decline for the landing surfaces,” she said with a feeling of defeat. “So USA Track and Field was not able to ratify my record.” Rachel has been running Track and Field for most of her life, and this was not the first time she experienced defeat. She’s a native Arizona resident who grew up setting records at Cactus High School as a freshman. She did well at the high school and state level, but she wasn’t quite Division 1 material. Instead she got recruited to Scottsdale Community College, where they transitioned her to a heptathlete. She had only competed in one of the seven events, the 200 meter dash. She had to learn how to do the rest of the events her first year. The story of her first event in college is one she tells her student athletes often, hoping to illustrate the importance of what it takes to be a successful athlete. “My coach took us down to the University of Arizona for an all comers meet,” she said. “My first hurdles race, I was going to run the 55 meter hurdles, I am scared as scared can be. It’s four U of A hurdlers and me. I’m so nervous when I go to jump up and down before getting into my blocks that I don’t realize I’m standing right over them and I tumble over my blocks. I get in, the starter started us. I was a hot mess. I was last, it

Rachel Guest works with track and field athletes at Willow Canyon High School on race starts during a preseason workout.

was embarrassing, and I was furious. I remember walking back to go to my bag, and my coach came up to me and I’m like, that will never happen again. And at first he’s probably thinking, great she’s going to quit. What I was meaning was, I was never going to let that kind of situation happen again. I had one week before my first heptathlon, trained as hard as I knew how, came back that next weekend and broke the meet record in the hurdles and ended up winning the heptathlon.” The reason she shares that story with the kids is because we are always faced with times in our life where we have a choice. We can either let that moment define us, or we can defeat that moment. “I made the choice to defeat that moment and rise above it. Hopefully when they encounter a situation like that, whether it be track or life or school, they take a second thought and say how am I going to choose to deal with this.” - Rachel Guest Rachel’s successes and failures continued. She became an All-American as a heptathlete and earned a full track and field scholarship to Idaho State. She was training and had her sights set on the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia when she herniated a disc in her back. “My body just had a different plan,” she said. She ended up walking away from the sport for nine

years. She got married, had kids, and was living a happy life. But eventually, it just started talking to her again. The sport drew her back. She found out that even as athletes get older, there are competitions. In 2005 she started competing again and did some local meets. In 2007 she went to nationals and ran the 100 and 200 meter dash. By 2010 she started getting back into combined events. In 2011 she turned 35, and when you are 35 you can start competing at the world level in the Masters. In Sacramento that year, she competed in and won the heptathlon. And from there the sky just became the limit. “When you count relays, I am a part of seven different American and World Records,” said a proud Guest. As the female Track and Field Coach for Willow Canyon High School, Guest tries to take the lessons she has learned in the sport and use that to help guide the students. “This is a sport that I am really passionate about. I’ve done it for most of my life,” she said. “I always try to remind the students though that it’s all about what you put into it, because there are a lot of days where it’s hard. I never try to act like it’s easy. I think it’s important for us as coaches to remind them of that. And I think that it does go back to

When you count relays, I am a part of seven different American and World Records.


FEATURE that idea that kids are so used to such an instant life. I think that kids forget that success takes time, it takes effort, and there is so much behind the scenes that goes into it. So I try to remind them on those tough days when they are feeling down, that it’s going to pay off.” For the students, having a world record holding athlete as a coach has some benefits from their perspective as well. “It makes me feel more comfortable because she knows what she’s doing,” said Ashlyn Williams, an 11th grade athlete at Willow Canyon. “She really gives us the motivation to [be successful]. She’ll be competing one day, and we’ll be competing the next. And she’s always fired up with us, which really helps.” For other students, it’s having a coach who can understand in the moment how they are feeling and participate in what they are going through. “It’s really motivating because she’s always so energetic

Bill Laing, Guest’s shot put and discus coach, watches as she performs a practice throw at Willow Canyon High School.

14 APRIL 2021

and does the stuff with us and shows us how to do it,” said Savannah Smith, a 10th grade athlete at Willow Canyon. “Not just like a little bit of a demonstration, she actually does it.” “A lot of coaches will stand back and say, run harder, run faster,” said Iris Baker, a 10th grade athlete. “When she does it with us, and can understand and feel our pain, she understands where we are at.” Guest says she does think being a current athlete does help the students because of how technical sports are in general. “When you look at track and even just with running mechanics, I think it definitely benefits them when you can have a coach that can do the drill so they have that realtime example of what they are trying to do,” she said. “As a high school student athlete, they are getting world class training, and that’s phenomenal,” said Bill Laing, former Willow Canyon coach. “She’s known around the

world. You just don’t get that at high schools. She’s got a good rapport with the kids and they just love her.” But more importantly than being able to do the same drills as the students, or understand how they are feeling while training and competing, Guest goes back to the very nature and foundation of sports and competition as a way to connect with her athletes. “I recently had my first hurdle race in my life that I hit the hurdles so severely that I didn’t even finish the race,” she said. “I had four student athletes there at the meet watching me, and I still had four other events to do that day. Like many people, I wanted to stomp my feet and get mad and walk away and not finish. That isn’t the way to handle that situation in general, but it’s also about looking at how I can be that role model for them. I picked myself up, put my big girl pants on, and ended up having some really successful performances the rest of the meet.” In true Rachel Guest fashion, and as an inspiration and model for her student athletes, she’s got her eyes set on that decathlon record that wasn’t ratified from 2020, and

Rachel Guest poses with athletes from Germany and Poland in the Women’s 40 Masters Championship in the Pentathlon. Guest broke the American record at the event.

hasn’t let it go. “The way I look at it, you just have to keep your chin up,” she said. “I was frustrated, but that is not going to get me very far. I’ve already got my sights on the fact that I have all this time to get even better with pole vault and get even better with the discus. And the plan is to just shatter that record in 2021.”

FIND YOUR PURPOSE 200+ Online Programs, 100% Online* Tay Brunstorff 480-267-6796 tay.brunstorff@gcu.edu gcu.edu/ec/Tay.Brunstorff *Does not include programs with residences Please note, not all GCU programs are available in all states and in all learning modalities. Program availability is contingent on student enrollment. Grand Canyon University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (800-621-7440; http://hlcommission.org/). Important policy information is available in the University Policy Handbook at https://www.gcu.edu/academics/ academic-policies.php. The information printed in this material is accurate as of FEBRUARY 2021. For the most up-to-date information about admission requirements, tuition, scholarships and more, visit gcu.edu ©2021 Grand Canyon University 21COEE0057




steps to getting your child ready for

By Jean Vogel, Kindergarten Teacher at Asante Preparatory Academy and recent National Board Certification recipient

It’s coming fast! The first day of school for some parents and little ones in our community is just months away. Kindergarten can be a big adjustment for everyone in the household. Many parents have asked me over the years what they can do at home to get their child ready for school. I’ve compiled a quick list of five questions to ask yourself and your child to prepare for that first day and beyond. Little things at home can make a big difference in the classroom and allow children to have a successful first year. Remember that kindergarten helps kiddos develop cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically. What you can reinforce at home can be academic, such as reading. But it can also be addressing the way students react to situations with their peers, developing ways to react to adversity, and being able to perform tasks without the help of an adult. I hope that this list provides a good first step for you and your child. See you in August for the first day!

01 - Have you developed a growth mindset with your child?

Even if your child cannot do something YET, it means that they can still practice that skill and have time to work towards mastery. Please encourage your child to keep trying something that is new or challenging. This might be a new game you are playing as a family, trying to write their name on their own, or even skipping or riding a bike outside! Encouraging your child to continue trying helps them learn perseverance and determination even when the problems seem tough.

16 APRIL 2021

02 - Have you worked on fostering independence?

Teach them to open all of their breakfast, lunch, and snack items on their own. Teach them to tie their shoes, how to take off and put on shoes, coats, and outfits for ease of using the restroom and playing outside.

03 - Have you created a love for reading?

Studies show that reading is more valuable than flashcards and skill and drill practicing. Practice reading to your child at home with anything you can. Remember it is important to expose your child to a variety of materials from newspapers, magazines, or even just those pesky fliers and coupons that come in the mail. Your child will learn valuable skills such as tracking print, directionality from left to right, and return sweep all while having quality time with a loved one at home.

04 - Have you cultivated respect and turn taking in your child? Play games together! It is important for children to learn to take turns, wait respectfully, encourage others, and even cope with winning and losing in a game. It is fun to do as a family and a great way to prepare for success at school.

05 - Have you encouraged following multistep directions in routines?

This is not only a great skill for school or home but as a long term life skill as well. Ask your child to help you with something at home from daily routine items to new chores. Start by giving them two consecutive things to do in a specific order. For example at bed time: first change into your pajamas and then brush your teeth. Then add in other steps that may be more difficult for your child or different than their normal routine. As a second example: first change into your pajamas, then clean up your dirty laundry, next pick out your clothes for tomorrow and last brush your teeth. See how many steps you can add into the directions while your child maintains success! This helps your child learn how to follow multi step directions while furthering their independence.



Growing by leaps and bounds T

hompson Ranch Elementary School was the recipient of 50 trees courtesy of the community planting opportunity provided by the Arizona Sustainability Alliance. The Alliance identified the school as part of the urban forestry priority. The Arizona Sustainability Alliance is a local nonprofit that provides project-based sustainability solutions to communities in Arizona focused on five priority areas: urban forestry, sustainable food systems, renewable energy, conservation, and cities. Community tree plantings in low canopy areas of the Phoenix Metro Area is a significant part of the urban forestry priority for the Alliance. The organization received funding to plant 50 trees in El Mirage in January 2021. Using the American Forests Tree Equity Map, Thompson Ranch Elementary School was identified as a great opportunity for tree planting. More than 32 volunteers including Superintendent Dr. Quinn Kellis, Fire Chief Michael Long and Assistant Fire Chief Chris Robinson from the City of El Mirage, Derek Castaneda, Ella Brambila, and Macy Walker from the City of El Mirage, Dr. Ashley Camhi and multiple volunteers from Arizona Sustainability Alliance, members from the Green Tree Hospitality Group, and Thompson Ranch staff planted the trees on campus January 9, 2021. A second planting took take place on Saturday, January 23, 2021 with 33 volunteers including City of El Mirage Mayor, Alexis Hermosillo. The school staff worked extensively with the Alliance to identify the location of the trees, and species best suited for the campus. The tree species planted include Chinese 18 APRIL 2021

Pistache, Chilean Mesquite, Desert Willow, and Evergreen Elm. The trees are drought resistant and native to the area to allow for sustainability. Students and staff on campus will be able to enjoy the shade provided by the trees once they mature and the students will have the opportunity to study the trees as part of the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) signature program on campus. “The Arizona Sustainability Alliance has been a wonderful blessing to Thompson Ranch and there are truly not enough words to express just how much we appreciate their generosity,” said Dr. Rachel Saunders, Thompson Ranch Elementary School Principal. The mission of the Arizona Sustainability Alliance is to create and support cutting edge, project-based sustainability solutions in Arizona.

More than 30 volunteers planted nearly 50 trees at Thompson Ranch Elementary School.

Ottawa University (OUAZ) a non-profit, private institution that has a rich 150-year plus history and part of an educational system that includes a state-of-the art and innovative participatory residential campus in Surprise, Arizona.

OUAZ and Surprise Recreation shared campus on 240-acres includes: Surprise Stadium World-class championship tennis courts Racquet ball Pickle ball

O’Dell Center (Recreation Center, Spirit Field, Faith Arena) Union (Hetrick Spirit Canteen, OUAZ Fan Shop) Scholars Hall Founders Hall

OUAZ is committed to helping students develop intellectual, spiritual, physical, artistic,

financial, familial and vocational dimensions of their lives. We do this with our innovative residential campus experiences that makes OUAZ special.



Christina Brown, a first grade teacher at Mountain View School, holds a bitmoji of herself in her classroom. The animated caricature of herself was used to help bridge the gap with online and remote learning students.



Miss Brown


ackie Edmonds stopped short when she saw thing they are learning about. Mrs. Brown gets to something strange on her son’s screen as he know so much about her students this way while was learning remotely from home in the fall of this cutting down on distractions during class time. school year. Mrs. Christina Brown, a first grade “Six and seven year olds have a lot to say, and teacher from Mountain View, was waving up and I want to hear about their lives and allow them to down dressed in a cardboard french fry costume open up to me,” said Brown. singing Happy Fryay (sic) online to her group of She also empowers her students and helps build students. confidence in their learning. Mrs. Brown donned the fun costume to get her “If a student writes a story based on something first grade students excited for the weekend and the we are learning, I tell them, ‘you are an author!’ return to in person classes on Monday, September When they draw a picture for me, I let them know 14. She also wanted to make sure all her students that they are now an illustrator. The students do got to say goodbye to one another since some hard work in my class and I want them to know they students would remain online when in person should be proud of themselves when they learn and classes resumed that next try something new,” said Brown. week. The positive affirmations make a “They all really got to know huge impact on the students and each other even in this virtual many of her first graders repeat world,” said Edmonds. “She is those same words as they share truly a wonderful caring teacher their day with their parents when and keeps the kids engaged they get home. and smiling all day.” Christina received a special gift Mrs. Brown makes it a point from a parent, Samantha Hanson, to build strong relationships and this year filled with her “Brownisms” connections with her students and encouraging words. “I felt so each and every day no matter blessed to receive this creative gift the mode of learning. from the parent and I am happy “In order to give the best to display it in my classroom as it experience to my students, I reiterates what I tell the students,” needed to first and foremost get said Brown. to know who they were. This The homemade sign had a very - Jackie Edmonds has been the driving force in special addition-a bitmoji in Mrs. my career. Before any child will Brown’s likeness. A bitmoji refers work to their full potential, they need to know that to a personalized cartoon avatar of yourself. The their teacher truly cares about them,” Brown said. paper bitmoji was part of a letter Mrs. Brown mailed During the first couple of weeks of school, Mrs. to each of her students during remote learning. Brown demonstrates a special hand signal that The letter invited her students to take their Little students can do while she is talking to let her know Miss Brown bitmoji on an adventure. “I wanted to they have something to share. When the lesson give my students a little piece of me and encourage is through, Mrs. Brown allows that student to talk my first graders to take pictures with me, read a about the connection they have with the specific story to me, tell me all the wonderful things they

She is truly a wonderful caring teacher and keeps the kids engaged and smiling all day.


FEATURE were doing,” said Brown. She wanted to make sure her students felt connected with her even though they were not together as a class and make sure they knew she was thinking of them, and she missed them. These small gestures are one of the many ways she connects with her students and has made it a focus to make sure each of her students feel special, similar to how she felt as a child growing up in Ohio. Mrs. Brown knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was just five years of age. She had an amazing education in school and wanted to emulate the wonderful things she experienced as a young child. Her mother worked as a secretary in a school front office and would bring home extra supplies for a young Christina to play with. “I played school in the bedroom with my dolls, with all of the materials my mom would bring home from school,” shared Brown. “My parents supported and encouraged my love for teaching early on.” Christina studied education in college and began to travel with her military husband overseas. “Teaching for me was the profession that I naturally gravitated towards. I knew going into college that I wanted to be a teacher and that is exactly what I did,” said Brown. She had the opportunity to teach in Germany, Korea, Japan, and Italy and learned different strategies from all over the world to bring back to her classroom at Mountain View. “The one common thread I learned throughout was that no matter where you are, your students should feel like they are at home at school and connected with their classmates and teachers,” shared Brown. Once her and her family moved stateside, she worked in various supportive roles as she was finishing her teaching certificate required to teach in Arizona. She worked as a paraprofessional, in the afterschool Den Club program, and as a substitute teacher. Being in the various roles within the district helped her evolve as a teacher and put everything in her toolbox when she took on her own classroom. One of the most important 22 APRIL 2021

Mrs. Brown sent this letter home to her students during remote and online learning, encouraging them to use her bitmoji to help create a stronger bond during the pandemic.

things she learned was to instill students with autonomy. “My classroom runs itself, literally seven year-olds run the whole classroom,” shared Brown. The first grade students in Mrs. Brown’s class help one another in a variety of ways through classroom duties and leadership jobs. The children wipe down chromebooks, pass out supplies and have a leader at each table just in case a student needs a reminder or two when they are working through independent classwork. “My students take on roles that support each other’s learning,” said Brown. “I find that my students are more engaged in learning when they are given responsibilities as part of the classroom community.” “She does an extraordinary job building relationships with her students and promoting their excitement for learning and the love of school,” said Gail Miller, principal

at Mountain View School. “She is strategic in ensuring all students have a sense of belonging.” Mrs. Brown was recognized for her efforts in 2019 and was selected as a recipient of the Spirit of Education Award by the National Safe Schools Convening for her positive interactions with students and her efforts to create the next generation of leaders, friends, and problem-solvers. Christina was nominated by her colleagues for creating supportive learning environments and communities, and promoting diversity and inclusion through best practices. Parents at Mountain View School often request Mrs. Brown for their younger children and her fellow teachers take notice of the dedication she has for her students and the school. “She has built such deep, trusting and caring relationships with the families and students in her classroom,” said fellow Mountain View teacher Michelle Ives. “Parents and students from several years past still check in and update Mrs. Brown on their achievements.” “At the end of the day while I am dismissing my current students, I hear my name being called. It is the best sound you could ever hear. It may be a student just happy to see me, trying to say goodbye to me for the day, or a parent driving by in a car waving,” shared Brown.

“These are the moments in teaching that I will never forget!”

Stickers outside Mrs. Brown’s classroom at Mountain View School in Waddell, Arizona.

Meet a GCC Gaucho Glendale Community College, home of the Gauchos, helps thousands of students achieve their academic dreams, here is one their stories Meet Anaiah Anaiah was so excited to go to GCC that she decided to graduate early from high school and enroll in the spring 2020 semester. Her grades at GCC were so good that she earned a scholarship from the American Association of University Women.

Make it happen at Glendale Glendale is affordable and offers hundreds of degrees & certificates, small class sizes, university transfers and more. Register today: enroll-gcc.com Get more information: 623.845.3333 or gccaz.edu

“I didn’t consider any other college. In high school I took GCC Dual Enrollment classes so it was a natural transition for me.” Anaiah said. She added, “Laura, my GCC advisor, really clinched it for me. When she showed me the pathways map that would track my course schedule right into ASU, I was 100% convinced.” Anaiah has her long-term sights set on being a nutritionist in a children’s hospital or elderly care facility. In the meantime she is excited to be on campus. “I’ve gotten involved in clubs and met students who share my interests.” Make it happen at GCC. enroll-gccaz.com

The Maricopa Community College District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age in its programs or activities. For Title IX/504 concerns, call the following number to reach the appointed coordinator: (480) 731-8499. For additional information, as well as a listing of all coordinators within the Maricopa College system, visit: www.maricopa.edu/non-discrimination.



‘Quinn’tessential Salsa In 1992, current Dysart Superintendent and then Spanish teacher Quinn Kellis received an appealing salsa recipe from a fellow English teacher. After the first batch, he and his family were hooked. He’s been making this recipe ever since, with some slight modifications over the years. For example, the cumin is a new addition, as well as the salsa-style tomatoes. The recipe has won numerous, and altogether inconsequential awards, over the years and has both bested and lost to fellow coworker methods, all in the spirit of fun and good food! If you embark on the making of this recipe, bring your appetite, or a lot of friends! It makes a whopping 1-1.5 gallons! 2 large cans (28-32 oz) tomato sauce 2 cans (15-16 oz) mexican-style stewed tomatoes (puréed) 2 cans (7 oz) yellow El Pato sauce 2 cans (7 oz) green El Pato sauce 1 can (15-16 oz) salsa-style tomatoes (Great Value brand at Walmart) 1 can (10 oz) Rotel tomatoes (original) 1 can (4-6 oz) diced green chiles 2 jalapeños (chopped - remove seeds for milder heat) 1 large yellow onion (chopped) 1 bunch green onions (chopped) 1 bunch fresh cilantro (chopped) 4 cloves garlic (minced) 1 lime squeezed Cumin seasoning to taste Salt to taste Stir in up to 2 cups water as needed for thickness Best eaten in the first 3-5 days for optimal freshness Lasts up to 12 months if canned Makes 1 to 1.5 gallons.

24 APRIL 2021


Determined to Succeed Anesah Price works on a project in the engineering lab at Shadow Ridge High School.

Story by Lily Combs, Shadow Ridge High School Journalism student. Photo by Ginia McFarland Only 13% of the U.S. engineering workforce are women. Less than 220,000 females alongside roughly 1.5 million men - one of the biggest gender gaps in our country. Anesah Price first confronted this reality as she entered Engineering 1/2 her freshman year at Shadow Ridge High School and only caught sight of two other girls. Now in her senior year, she is the only one left in Engineering 7/8. After overcoming initial feelings of panic and anxiety, Price desires to join those daring 220,000 female engineers and help raise that 13%. Anesah Price has had her eyes set on engineering since the 7th grade. Her attention in this bold career was first captured when she saw “engineering” included in the list of future jobs presented by her literature teacher. “I asked my dad and mom about it, and I found out my older brother was studying to be an engineer. I looked into it more and actually fell in love with it.” From the 7th grade on, she has fervently pursued an engineering life. Over time, Price has developed an interest in designing video games as a software engineer. “I want to make role-playing games (RPG) games, which are story games,” says Price. “I want to make a change for just the pure love of a good story. It’s not going to be much, but with everything that’s happening, sometimes you need that second of a distraction to enjoy a good game.” Three years as one of a few girls in her high school

engineering classes has not slowed this dream down, even when Price is outnumbered 27 to one by the boys in Engineering 7/8. While having been scared at first, Price now feels right at home in the class. “It just becomes like a really big family at the end of the day,” Price explains. With graduation right around the corner, Price plans on attending Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott next year. This high ranking college offers various engineering degrees such as Simulation Science, Gaming and Animation, Price’s choice degree. She is prepared to conquer complex subjects such physics, calculus, analytic geometry, and computer science. However, while being one of the nation’s top undergraduate schools in engineering, only 25% of Embry students are female. Price still does not let this daunting fact stand in the way of her determination. “I’m a little worried about the environment,” Price explains. “But [when] it comes down to it, I’m in school with people who have the same general interests as me, so I’m going to find common ground with someone.” As high school comes to an end and college draws near, Price is primed to go deeper into engineering and grow that 220,000. Excited and steadfast, she is ready to join the 13% and break preconceptions about women in engineering. She is determined to be seen as, “the girl who is dominating in the engineering field.” COMMUNITY CONNECT MAGAZINE 25



is where the


acKenzie Sniezek comes from a world of teaching. Her mom is a teacher at Sunset Hills Elementary School. Two doors down from her is one of her best friends. Both of her friend’s parents are teachers. Another teacher lives right across the street. She was also very close with all her teachers at Sunset Hills, where she attended kindergarten through 8th grade. “I would see them all the time, because of my mom,” she said. “I was always surrounded by teachers. I would always hear the point of view from the teacher.” She loved watching her mom teach, and she loved helping her peers out. She had thought about teaching herself from an early age. While the passion and draw was there, MacKenzie still wasn’t sure as she graduated eighth grade. “I loved the lessons, I loved working with kids, it was just that I was extremely shy,” she said with not even a hint of current shyness. She was so shy when she entered high school that she didn’t think she could be a teacher at all. So what brought her out of her shell? As it turns out, simply taking a class at Shadow Ridge High School provided the opportunities to break out. “Freshman year I did absolutely nothing,” she said. “I was a shy kid. I absolutely regret it. Four years goes so fast.” MacKenzie joined the Education Professions program at Shadow Ridge her junior year. The first year was getting to know the program, and having some opportunities to visit schools and compete at the state championship. She didn’t win anything, but she became a bit less shy and more interested in teaching. “My first year we went to a school, and I was just helping these kids out!” she exclaims with a smile brimming from ear to ear. “I just loved it. I loved working with them, talking to them. I love the younger grade honesty. They are so honest with you, and I just loved that.” “One of my favorite memories is seeing MacKenzie lead a small group of students during a visit to Canyon 26 APRIL 2021

Ridge School,” said Andrea Haser, Education Professions teacher at Shadow Ridge High School. “The transformation from student to teacher is exhilarating!” The first year of the program successfully introduced MacKenzie to the profession, gave her some opportunities to come out of her shell a bit, and find something she enjoyed doing. It was that following year though that really was the turning point. “So when I went into my second year of Education Professions, it was only me and one other girl that went back the second year, because there were a lot of seniors in the class my first year.” She described a whirlwind story of how she inadvertently became the president of the Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) Club, Educators Rising. MacKenzie credits that role and involvement as what really brought her out of her shell completely. It forced her into a leadership role and required her to get used to talking in front of people. “CTSOs provide leadership opportunities on campus as a student run organization embedded in CTE classes,” said Haser. “CTSOs are student led, meaning students hold the power to make decisions on events, fundraisers, and outreach ideas. As chapter president, MacKenzie led each meeting and modeled servant leadership by participating in every extra opportunity the organization offered. One of the highlights of MacKenzie as chapter president was when she received her own gavel at officer training!” Another aspect of the Education Professions program that really forced MacKenzie out from her shyness was the competitions. MacKenzie did the extraordinary her senior year by qualifying for nationals in both her individual and team event. The individual event required her to plan and teach a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) lesson to an elementary classroom while her group event focused on examining an ethical dilemma about a situation involving student athletes. Qualifying for

MacKenzie Sniezek poses in the lobby of Sunset Hills Elementary School, where she attended as a student from Kindergarten through eighth grade and now works as a paraprofessional.


FEATURE nationals was a goal that MacKenzie set for herself and her team. She achieved 5th place in the STEM lesson planning category and 3rd place in the team event. Unfortunately, a week after the state competition where she qualified for nationals, COVID-19 hit. “I kept practicing and practicing, but it never happened,” she said with a disheartened look. “While we were devastated at the cancellation of nationals, qualifying for this event was still a tremendous honor,” Haser said. MacKenzie graduated in 2020 during the pandemic and promptly enrolled in Rio Salado College for Elementary Education. Her two years in the Education Professions program at Shadow Ridge successfully did away with her shyness and helped her to find her passion. “I would recommend it a thousand [percent], because I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but when I experienced it, I loved it,” she said. “That’s how it kept me going and interested. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be doing this now. I would be sitting at home doing my prerequisite work trying to figure out my life.” This is where MacKenzie’s story comes full circle. MacKenzie needed a job, preferably in education while she went to school. Her mom started her teaching career as a paraprofessional, or teacher aide. So MacKenzie applied to the Dysart Unified School District for a paraprofessional position, and as fate would have it, found a spot available at Sunset Hills. “I grew up at this school. I love this school, so I came here,” she said. A lot of the teachers MacKenzie had when she was growing up still work there, so it’s still a bit different for her. “It’s weird walking down the hall and seeing my music teacher that taught me from kindergarten to 8th grade and that was such a big part of my life, and I’m like, Hi Mr. B!” When MacKenzie graduates, she plans to be a teacher in the Dysart Unified School District, and maybe even Sunset Hills. She doesn’t have an idea of grade level yet, but it’s more about the students than the grade to her. “If you don’t love the students, if you don’t love working with kids, then you’re not going to be a good teacher,” she said. “And I honestly believe that.” MacKenzie credits her potential future as a teacher with that Career and Technical Education class in high school and the experience and opportunity it gave her. “I think if there are more programs where students get to experience what the job actually is, and kids actually get to see what it looks like, I think it’s going to open their eyes, it’s going to help them find their path,” she said. “Because it is hard to find your path in four years.” “CTE classes require 51% of class time to be spent in the 28 APRIL 2021

lab,” said Haser. “For a teaching class, this means working with students and planning and teaching lessons. Teaching is so much more than book knowledge, and giving students the opportunity to interact with students in the K-12 classroom is key to preparing them for a future career as a paraprofessional and teacher.” That hands-on approach has allowed MacKenzie to develop a true love of the profession, one where she does it for the kids and the betterment of others, over anything else. “I believe teaching is about the students,” she says definitively. “And to be completely honest, since I’ve been here, I could care less about what I earn. I care about the students, their health and their happiness. I love when I get the kid to smile, or I get this project right and they are so happy. I’d rather have that than anything else.” Spoken like a true teacher.

MacKenzie Sniezek poses with a 5th place certificate at the Arizona state competition last March, earning her a place at nationals.

30 APRIL 2021



Mikinzi Strykul poses in the eSports room at Willow Canyon High School, a place where she learned to come out of her shell and find her passion.




hen Mikinzi Strykul entered 9th grade in 2018 at Willow Canyon High School, she had a lot of social anxiety. Joining a school of 2,000 others can be overwhelming, and it can be even harder to make friends. Most students were into the conventional activities associated with high school, and that just wasn’t her. After four weeks she transferred out of Willow Canyon and into the online iSchool program full time. About a year later she saw one small announcement on the school website about an eSports program being started at Willow Canyon. Video games had been a part of her life for a while now. Her sister had been playing since 2012 and got Mikinzi into it as well. “I have her to thank for my eSports journey,” Mikinzi said. “My siblings are a big influence in how I got into video games, especially League of Legends.” After seeing the announcement, Mikinzi thought she would give it a try. At first she was very nervous to play with people she didn’t know, and play with people at school that were perhaps better than her, or knew the game more than her. After all, she only played - Mikinzi Strykul at home with her siblings. “After we started playing and practicing though, it became really fun,” she said with an enthusiastic smile. “I decided, yeah this is something I really enjoy and want to participate more in.” She was hooked, and all of a sudden saw part of the school and culture in a way she never imagined. Part of

the reason eSports was introduced at Willow Canyon High School was to capture students like Mikinzi. Students who are involved in extracurricular activities in high school, whether that be athletics, arts, or clubs, have a greater sense of belonging and do better academically. “eSports created a space for many students that they didn’t have before,” said Jon Alfred, eSports coach at Willow Canyon. “They felt ostracized, they felt left out. Now they have some place where they can go, and they start building school spirit. They start buying into that they are ‘One Willow’ just like all those other programs. We are picking up students who would normally be excluded, and they’re now included.” For Mikinzi, participating in something that she loved with others who had that same passion was all she needed to overcome her anxiety. “I like this, and other people are liking it, so if we like it together, then it’s fine,” she said of video games and the eSports program. “They’re not going to make fun of me. They’re not going to joke about me, because we all love this.” eSports has only been around for three or four years nationally as a competitive sport. The Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) created the sport in 2019 for high schools. For many years, there has been a stigma about video games. Some believe they rot your brain, or that video games are just a waste of time. But one thing that eSports does that traditional video games don’t do is it requires students to become organized. That organization is the key that elevates eSports to a new level. “It’s not just them deciding to play whenever,” said Alfred. “They’re forced to work on a schedule. They’re forced to work with teammates that sometimes they struggle with. So you have problem solving, you have critical thinking skills. There is a lot of planning and strategizing that goes in.” Mikinzi indicated that required communication was one of the reasons she was able to come out of her shell and thrive in eSports. “If I didn’t talk with my teammates, and I didn’t communicate with them, I was going to fail my team,” she said. “I needed to communicate.”

All the nervousness, all the shyness went away. I was playing a game I loved, there was no reason to be shy.

32 APRIL 2021

Mikinzi Strykul plays Leage of Legends in the eSports room at Willow Canyon High School

A student’s head is silhouetted against a computer screen in the eSports room at Willow Canyon High School. Below: A close up of a student’s hands working a controller

After a few practices her and her teammates started to get into a rhythm, they started to understand each other, and how each other plays the game. “All the nervousness, all the shyness, went away,” she exclaimed. “I was playing a game I loved, there was no reason to be shy.” She’s not the only one who loves the game. eSports was worth approximately $1.1 billion in 2019. It made more money than the NBA. More than 140 colleges have adopted eSports programs and an additional 45 degree programs including programming, marketing, video production, and competitive play. “It’s just exploding,” said Alfred. “This is the way baseball, football, basketball was a hundred years ago.” Last year, a student at Willow Canyon even earned a scholarship to Grand Canyon University for eSports, something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago. That pathway to future success is another reason eSports has risen above the generic video game stereotypes and one of the reasons more students join. “Students who come in, they’re already excited, because video games are fun,” said Alfred. “Over 85% of Generation Z and Generation Alpha do play video games. And so that is a natural tendency for them. But, I can now show them that video games can take them somewhere. So when my grandparents made fun of me, and said, ‘hey, what are you ever going to do with video games.’ I can now say, well look at all these careers and opportunities that can be provided.”

Now in her junior year at Willow Canyon High School, Mikinzi is on track to graduate an entire year ahead of schedule thanks to her diligence in iSchool. She plans to attend college and major in computer science and cybersecurity. She hopes that maybe she can use that degree to work in the eSports field. After all, video games brought her out of her shell and made her into the person she is today. “I sure have lots of memories from our games,” she says with an enormous grin. “It just makes me really happy, and I think it can make others happy as well. I think the memories you make in high school, and particularly eSports can really help you grow in life. You have a purpose in life, so you don’t lose yourself.” COMMUNITY CONNECT MAGAZINE 33



in the works

Meet Andrew Valdez, a Shadow Ridge High School graduate, whose animated short film was featured at an international conference for the software maker, Blender. 34 APRIL 2021


Andrew Valdez poses with his animation project at Shadow Ridge High School. The short film, entitled ‘No.1 Worker, No.2 Artist’ was featured at BlenderCON 2020, an international conference focused on the software program Blender, on which Andrew created his animation.

or Andrew Valdez, digital animation has always been an interest of his. From a young age, Andrew loved creating animations. It wasn’t until he decided to start a YouTube channel that this interest grew. Andrew began creating animated introductions for his YouTube videos, which is where he initially realized his passion for animation and motion graphics. When Andrew began attending Shadow Ridge High School as a freshman in 2016, he learned of the Computer Animation program that the school offered. “When I got to high school, I saw Shadow Ridge had a program for [animation], so I immediately decided to take it,” said Andrew. The Computer Animation program is a four-year program focused on the basics of digital animation and motion graphics. Andrew excelled through the first two years of the program, which included Computer Animation 1-2 and Computer Animation 3-4. These initial courses teach students basic components of animation including 2D animation, programming, 3D modeling and texturing, character rigging, and motion capture, among others. Once students get to the third year of the program, Computer Animation 5-6, students are really given the creative freedom to explore and excel on their own. “Towards junior and senior year, we got to do our own thing. We would meet with our teacher and he would critique and give us his input, and we could go back and redo or add anything we needed to,” said Andrew. With this creative freedom sometimes comes challenges for many students, including Andrew. “When we started working on our own projects, I had a hard time coming up with things I wanted to do,” said Andrew. Drawing inspiration for a project proved to be rather difficult, and it took some time and effort to come up with ideas. This caused him to lose some motivation, but he was soon able to pick it back up. Despite the few difficulties Andrew experienced throughout the course of the program, he credits Shadow Ridge animation teacher, Scott Kaczynski, for helping him through. “Mr. K really helped me by guiding me through,” says Andrew. “I was able to always ask him about my work, and he was always able to be constructive about it.” During the spring semester of Andrew’s senior year, schools were suddenly forced to close due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Adjusting to this new normal proved to be a challenge for many students, including Andrew. Instead of letting it get him down, he decided to try and make the most of it. During all of his down time at home, Andrew found himself thinking and reflecting on his future, and his desire to to pursue his passions and doing what he loves, which for him was animation. Andrew has dreamt of pursuing a creative career involving digital animation in some way. He doesn’t see himself in a corporate “desk job” necessarily, or doing something otherwise unenjoyable. This is COMMUNITY CONNECT MAGAZINE 35

FEATURE where the motivation behind his recent project titled, ‘No.1 Worker, No.2 Artist’, came from. ‘No.1 Worker, No.2 Artist’ is a short film that Andrew created based on main character James, leaving his artistic life behind, for a new, more mundane and ordinary working life. “I wanted to show that No.1 you are a worker, but No. 2 you’re also still an artist,” says Andrew. The film begins with James sitting down at his office desk hard at work, when one of the pencils on his desk comes to life, seemingly trying to get James’ attention. The film goes on to depict the conflict James feels as he knows he needs to focus on his work, but also still misses his life as an artist. “I really just wanted to tell the story and remind people not to forget what you’re really passionate about,” says Andrew. Though just over two minutes in duration, the short film in its entirety took a rather long time to complete. “I started creating the characters in March, which took about a month to model,” says Andrew. Modeling the characters is the process of actually creating the characters in digital 3D form. Once Andrew finished modeling the characters, he moved into rigging them, which is essentially the process of creating the bone structure for the character so that they can be moved and controlled. Once the characters were ready, he began the lengthy process of animating the entire film which took a few months to complete. When the animating was completed, then came the finishing touches, which included creating and perfecting each and every sound effect in the film. From the sound of the ticking clock, typing on a keyboard, the motor of a pencil sharpener, and even the sound of footsteps, each sound had to be added and balanced to really tie the film together. “All that was left was sound design, which was a lot harder than I thought it would be. It was very time consuming,” explains Andrew. Nearly seven months after Andrew began - Andrew Valdez the planning stages of his short film, he could sit back and take a deep breath knowing after all this time, his project was complete. Andrew’s short film was created in Blender, which is a computer graphics software used to create varying animations and motion graphics. Each year, Blender hosts a conference bringing together motion graphics artists from

around the world. Due to COVID-19, their 2020 conference was held virtually. They asked animation artists to send in submissions to be featured. Andrew saw the opportunity and thought it would be a great way to get his work out there. To Andrew’s surprise, his short film was selected and featured in the online conference among many other artists from around the world, including some industry professionals. “I thought I maybe could just try it and see what happened. I guess they liked my idea. They accepted it and it was put in the showcase and everyone got to see it,” explains Andrew. This was a great accomplishment for him and something that will help motivate him moving forward. Andrew is excited to continue practicing and learning as much as he can about the field of animation. Since graduating from Shadow Ridge High School in May 2020, Andrew now attends an online animation school, as well as Grand Canyon University where he is studying to get his degree in Digital Design with an emphasis in

I really just wanted to tell the story and remind people not to forget what you’re really passionate about.

36 APRIL 2021

In this screen grab from Andrew Valdez’s animated short film, “No.1 Worker, No. 2 Artist,” the main character sits at a computer before encountering an incident with a pencil.

Animation. Andrew hopes to continue learning and building his portfolio so that he can be prepared for a job in the animation industry. Andrew says it would be a dream to be able to work as an animator for one of the big animation studios such as Pixar or DreamWorks. He mentions that it would also be great to work for a video game company or even an advertising agency doing animation work. However, no matter what Andrew decides, the sky really is the limit. According to his teacher at Shadow Ridge, Mr. Kaczynski, he’s got what it takes to be successful in this field. “Andrew is awesome,” exclaims Mr. Kaczynski. “He’s selfmotivated. He has the eye, and he searches out what he needs to do, which is something I can’t teach. You either have it or you don’t, and he’s got it. It’s pretty exciting. I can’t wait to see what he does with it.”

Watch Andrew Valdez’s short film on YouTube by scanning the QR Code with your phone’s camera. COMMUNITY CONNECT MAGAZINE 37


Why I chose a




y the middle of my oldest daughter’s second grade year, I felt overwhelmed and helpless at the lack of progress she was making in reading. My sweet 8 year-old felt defeated and didn’t seem happy, coming home most days talking of school yard drama and little about what she was learning. My husband and I knew something needed to change and ultimately decided to take a risk by switching schools and moving our children to a traditional school. We were certainly concerned with our daughter’s ability to keep up with an accelerated and rigorous curriculum found in traditional schools, but we hoped that a focused academic approach with minimal technology and an expectation for exceptional conduct would provide better outcomes. To be perfectly honest, the first semester was a huge adjustment. Nightly homework and weekly spelling tests were a far cry from what our educational experience had been before. The traditional school experience was as much an adjustment for my husband and I as it was for our girls. Despite the major changes, it was evident very quickly that our daughters were very happy at their new school, and I attribute this to several things. The expectations are consistent and all school members are held to the highest standards of conduct. If there is even the smallest concern from the classroom to the school yard, there is early communication to resolve the issue. Often, I hear from the school before I hear it at the dinner table from my girls. But more importantly, communication does not just occur when there is a problem. I have had teachers, staff members, and the principal call home to report when one of my girls has demonstrated exceptional behavior. This proactive approach communicates to students that all of their choices and behavior, good or bad, have an impact. A child’s success at school is a shared responsibility, it does not just fall on the shoulders of the teacher, parent, 38 APRIL 2021

By Chelsea Hain

or student. Because the traditional school has a culture of collaboration and joint accountability between school and home, my daughter finally started making progress in reading. Before, I wanted to help my daughter, but my inquiries and attempts to collaborate were dismissed. I was essentially told that it is what it is, and although she was struggling, she wasn’t “low enough” to get extra help. At the traditional school there was a proactive response to her struggles. Her teacher intently listened to my concerns and worked to close the gap; but when she still struggled we came together and developed a plan. She received reading intervention at school and the school helped me find a reading tutor. Students are also held accountable. Homework and the expectation to maintain passing grades gives responsibility and ownership to the student for their academic success. And speaking of homework, I know there are mixed feelings and research regarding it, but I can honestly say I’m glad my kids are required to complete homework each night. As I mentioned earlier, homework was a huge adjustment for everyone, but what I’ve come to realize is that homework translates to knowing what’s being taught. This enables me to reinforce learning outside of school. As parents, it allows us to experience what our children are learning and how they’re being taught, which empowers us to support their education. The curriculum is rigorous and effective, and I appreciate that my children are learning through direct interaction (e.g. teacher, paper, pencil) and not through a computer. I am amazed at how much my children are learning and the pace at which they are learning. They are being challenged academically but are also being very successful. The Saxon math curriculum is a great mix of traditional math and problem solving, but also promotes learning practical math skills that apply to daily life. I am regularly impressed with the mental math abilities my girls have

acquired since attending the traditional school. The Spalding reading approach was the greatest adjustment academically for our family, but has also produced the most notable progress in our children. The focus on phonics, spelling, and writing not only significantly helped our struggling 3rd grader, but has also made learning to read much easier for our younger two children. In addition to the core academics, electives and access to high quality extracurricular activities enhances and creates a well-rounded learning experience. Spanish is a required elective for all my children, and

they absolutely love it. Hearing them practice speaking Spanish and applying what they have learned at home and in the community is amazing to me. My children have also enjoyed participating in LEGO club and my oldest can’t wait until she is able to join the orchestra. As we move toward the end of our second year at Freedom Traditional School, I am so grateful to have found an environment that is as equally committed to my children’s success, both academically and socially, as am I. My children are flourishing and gaining skills that will make them successful throughout their educational career.

Chelsea’s children are in kindergarten, 2nd grade and 4th grade at Freedom Traditional Academy

Homework was a huge adjustment for everyone, but what I’ve come to realize is that homework translates to knowing what’s being taught. This enables me to reinforce learning outside of school.

- Chelsea Hain


Dysart Unified School District 15802 North Parkview Place Surprise, Arizona 85374

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Artwork by Marissa LeLevier, Shadow Ridge High School

Profile for DysartUSD

Community Connect: Volume 2 Issue 1