Community Connect: Vol.4 Issue 2

Page 1


You may know very little about it, but fencing is taking Arizona and the Northwest Valley by storm as more and more try this unique sport often referred to as “physical chess.”

DUELING IN Vol. 4 Issue 2 Being a Special Education Mom + Students Share Financial Wellness + Full Calendar of Events for the Spring +

4 6 8 10 16 18 20 26 28 34 38 40

Photo Feature: Fire Science

Student Voice: Scholarship Advice

CONNECT communi community

APRIL 2023 • Vol. 4 Issue 1

15802 N Parkview Place Surprise, AZ 85374

Editorial Staff

Renee Ryon

Ryan McGinley

Carly McVay

Ambria Brown

Cover Story: Dueling in the Desert

Teacher Tips: Pyramid of Success

Spotlight: Mentoring and Tutoring

Feature Story: Putting Pen to Paper

Spotlight: Ready for What’s Next

Feature: Money Talks - Financial Wellness

Community: Rosie the Riveters

Parent Perspective: Finding Your Community

Community Capture Artwork

Contributing Writers

Serena Simms

Clay Bewley

Sara Rivera

Fatem Kadhem

Contributing Artists and Photographers

Chandler Linski

Kavan Lake Photography


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 at for more information on pricing and deadlines or visit

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

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.


On the Calendar: The Doo Wop Project

Calendar of Events for the Local Community +
Michael Festin poses in his fencing attire for a professional picture. Image courtesy of Kavan Lake Photography.


This free, family event hosted by the City of Surprise will feature activities, face painters, balloon twisters, Easter Bunny pictures and more! Food and drink will be available for purchase. The first hunt begins at 8:20 a.m. for children 2 and under.

APRIL 8 from 7:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Kansas City Practice fields, 15850 N. Bullard Ave.

Shadow Ridge Presents: Grease, The Musical

Grease celebrates Rydell

High’s class of 1959 in all their duck-tailed, bobbysoxed, gum-snapping glory.

APRIL 12-14

Shadow Ridge Auditorium

Tickets: www.onthestage. tickets/shadow-ridge-highschool-theatre

Poetry Slam at WHAM

This event features open mic night for poetry, free verse, and storytelling! All are welcome to participate as performers and/or listeners. Any established or original pieces may be read. This is a free event and open to the public!

APRIL 21 @ 6:00 p.m.

WHAM Art Center

Suprise Day of Service Event

In celebration of National Volunteer Week, Seeds of Hope International Ministries (SOHIM) has purchased dry pinto beans for our “Bean Bag Day” event. Participants can come help bag bulk pinto beans into individual packaging to distribute to those in need.

APRIL 22 @ 8:00 a.m.

Freedom Traditional 16066 N Parkview Place.

Events Notice:

Valley Vista High School Theatre Presents: High School Musical

APRIL 13-14

Tickets: https://www.

WCHS Theatre presents: Anastasia the Musical

This dazzling show transports its audience from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing con man and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love and family.

All calendar events are subject to date, time, and location changes and/or cancellation. Please check with the hosting venue and/or organization for the most up-to-date information on the event.

APRIL 12-15

Tickets: www.onthestage. tickets/willow-canyon-theatre


The Doo Wop Project

Featuring stars from the Broadway hits Jersey Boys, Motown: The Musical, and A Bronx Tale, The Doo Wop Project brings unparalleled authenticity of sound and vocal excellence to recreate—and in some cases entirely reimagine—the greatest music in American pop and rock history. This performance is supported by an award from the City of Surprise Arts & Cultural Advisory Commission.

APRIL 29 @ 8:00 p.m.

The Vista Center for the Arts

Tickets available at

Math Challenge

3rd through 8th grade students participate in the annual Math Challenge

APRIL 29 @ 8:00 a.m.

Dysart High School

Teacher Appreciation

Teacher Appreciation Day falls on the Tuesday in the first full week of May. This year, it takes place on May 2. It is a day to honor the kind, hardworking, and patient individuals who create an everlasting impact on our lives. Given how we entrust teachers with the care and future of the children, every day should be teachers’ appreciation day. And yet, these incredible professionals do not always get the recognition they deserve.

Music in the Park

Graduation Day

More than 7,000 students from Dysart, Shadow Ridge, Valley Vista, and Willow Canyon High schools walk across the stage at State Farm Stadium on Monday, May 22, 2023.

10:00am - Valley Vista High School

12:30pm - Dysart High School

3:00pm - Shadow Ridge High School

5:30pm - Willow Canyon High School

The City of El Mirage is hosting their monthly Music in the Park event. Join them for dinner and music at Gentry Park! There will be live music and food trucks! Please bring your own lawn chair or blanket. Parking available on Thunderbird Road.

MAY 15 @ 6:00 p.m.

Gentry Park


Valley Vista High School students had the opportunity recently to participate in a Smoke Trailer drill as part of their Career and Technical Education coursework. The program provides hands-on training and partnerships with the City of Surprise Fire Department to share real-world experiences, resume-building opportunities, and community service projects.

COMMUNITY CONNECT MAGAZINE 7 SecureSpace Self Storage is proud to support the community of Surprise & the Dysart Unified School District. Brand New Facility State of the art security Online Billing Gated Access Scan this QR to get a $25 storage gift card 13930 W. Sweetwater Avenue Surprise, AZ 85379 Call us at (623) 257-8660

Navigating the world of applying for


Forty-two. That’s the number of scholarships I was told I would have to apply to before I would win even one - and probably a small one at that. It is difficult to hear such a dejecting statistic and still manage to convince yourself to spend your free time writing seemingly useless essays. However, to me this daunting number became an opportunity to challenge myself and reach my goals.

Forty-two. My goal was to apply to forty-two scholarships by the time I finished my senior year. Due to my type A personality, I even created a log to keep track of the scholarships - a tab for ones I wanted to apply to, a tab for ones I had applied to, and a final tab for the results.

The first piece of advice I could give is one I should’ve taken to heart years ago; start applying soon, and I really do mean soon. I didn’t start focusing on scholarships until the summer before my senior year, and I came across plenty of applications that were open to underclassmen. That scary number would have been much more manageable if I knew I had four years to accomplish it, instead of less than one. But life moves on.

In my search, I was constantly bombarded with “no-essay” scholarships. It’s easy to fall down that rabbit hole as they are a straightforward way to buff up your number of completed applications; however, in my eyes, they were equally as straightforward of a way to waste time. The chances of winning a raffle when there are thousands of other students applying is slim to none, especially when the award is as appealing as $10,000, $20,000, or more. There’s no harm in applying, but I usually scrolled past or didn’t count them in my scholarship count.

Let’s fast forward. You finally found a scholarship

worth your while. Now, how do you maximize your chances of winning? Truthfully, I’m not sure. I’m a first-generation college student, so I don’t have access to knowledge from people around me that have gone through this process before. But I managed to be selected as a Flinn Foundation Scholarship Semifinalist - and now Finalist - so here are some things I have learned.

Firstly, you need to spend time recalibrating your perspective on your life. When you’re so engulfed in the experiences you have had, it’s hard to clearly see what is relevant versus what is not. The same idea applies to your application. Look at your life from an outside perspective. What things stand out to you? Do you want them to stand out? What aspects of yourself do you want to emphasize? The advantage of starting your scholarship search early is that you have time to improve your weak points, whether that be extracurriculars, leadership experience, grades, etc. But no matter what, you can always find distinct things you’d like to focus on. Things that make you stand out. Things that are important to you. The beauty of essays is that, despite being a pain to write occasionally, they allow you to express yourself. Don’t be afraid to take risks with metaphors, outlooks on the prompt, and writing styles. Brag about yourself. And above all, don’t be afraid to recycle them.

Besides being good for the environment, recycling essays will just save time. One of the worst parts of the scholarship process will always be the blank, blinking document staring at you. So I have a Google document that tracks all the essays I’ve written. When there are similar prompts between scholarships, I go through the document to see what


I wrote last time and to get renewed inspiration. You don’t have to reuse the essay, but it can prove to be a good starting point.

With all this being said, there are still 42 applications to submit. That’s daunting. But at least that gives you plenty of opportunities - enough to both focus on the nationwide scholarships with an attractive award as well as the local ones. And you will soon learn to favor the latter. Your chances increase dramatically when your competitors are restricted. A key way to lower the applicant pool is to search for scholarships that are only for your state, your county, and even your high school. This advice also applies to scholarships that may not be local but are still confined to a specific group of people. Find those niche groups you apply to and stick to them. Don’t let a scholarship escape you because you overlooked it due to its seemingly small amount. Remember, you can stack scholarships, so anything helps.

I applied to over twenty scholarships before hearing back from one. That is a pretty significant number and a bitter reality of the scholarship process. But when the imposter syndrome starts to set in, and all the work you are putting in seems pointless, remember that until you reach the magic number, you cannot give up. Your future self will thank you for it. Good luck!

Fatem Kadhem, a senior at Valley Vista High School, poses with her Flinn Scholar Semifinalist certificate. The Flinn Scholarship is a prestigious program that awards applicants based on academic achievement, leadership and involvement, service to the community, ability to communicate, and personal qualities.


10 APRIL 2023
(Left to Right) Farran McManus, Cohen Welling, Logan Laursen, and Michael Festin pose for a picture during their fencing practice session at West Point Elementary School.

Fencing is a niche sport that you’ve probably heard of, but never participated in or watched outside of the Olympics. It’s most popular in the European countries of Italy and France, mainly because the sport originated there. However, as of late, the sport has gained some notoriety in Arizona as more and more young people are introduced to it. It would probably surprise most people to realize that two of the top ten fencers in the state live right here in Surprise. What’s more astonishing is that four local Dysart students recently earned a spot and competed at the USA Fencing 2023 Junior Olympics in Colorado this past February. Michael Festin, a senior at Shadow Ridge High School, Logan Laursen and Farran McManus, both seniors at Willow Canyon High School, and Cohen Welling, a 7th grader at Ashton Ranch Middle School all dueled it out with some of the best athletes from around the country. While their origin stories vary, it’s incredible to realize each student started out with little to no knowledge or background in the sport.

“So I was in second or third grade, and I saw some paper that said, hey, let’s do fencing,” said Michael Festin. “I saw people with swords on it. I thought that was cool. I took it to my parents and said, hey, I want to do this. They said ok.”

That paper was a flier advertising a Dysart Community Education class run by Ewa Medynska. Ewa has been coaching for more than two decades both here in Arizona and internationally. She set up the classes as a way to offer instruction, including footwork, blade work, tactics, and strategy for beginners, intermediate and advanced fencers.

“It took me a little bit because my family is a lot of hockey players,” said Logan Laursen. They all played hockey, and I was kind of like, oh, do I want to keep playing hockey and skating or do I want to fence?

And then after a couple of classes, I was like, you know, I really like this, it’s a lot of fun.”

You could say that the four of them, at the early ages of

5th and 6th grade, were intrigued by the thought of wielding a sword at someone else. I mean what kid wouldn’t want to do that? But as they grew to learn, the sport is so much more than that. For Michael Festin, that coolness factor quickly changed into something more. “I was a kid with a sword in my hand. I was pretty happy. When it started becoming competitive, that’s like when it changed from being kind of fun to like, oh, this is really awesome.”

USA Fencing describes it as “physical chess,” or the ultimate blend of speed, skill, and mental acuity. Logan Laursen agrees, but also equates it to those old video games where players move back and forth on the same 2D plane.

“Well, the way I kind of look at it is it’s like video game characters that are 2D, and they move back and forth,” said Laursen. “But it’s like a chess game where you’re competing with the other person and what strategy you come up with as you move back and forth. It’s a lot of thinking. You have to think about what you’re doing, but then your body has to add on to it.”

For those unfamiliar with the sport, the object is to use your weapon to strike your opponent whilst avoiding being hit. Scoring is a bit different for the three types of fencing. Epée is the variant taught by Medynska, which features the largest and heaviest of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing. With the epée both fencers may score simultaneously, unless it is the deciding point when neither strike counts. Only the tip of the weapon may be used and the

12 APRIL 2023
Logan Laursen (right) and Michael Festin (center) pose for a picture during a competition.

entire body is a target in epée. At the Olympic Games matches are contested over three, three-minute rounds, with the winner being either the first to 15 points or whoever has the most hits after the three rounds. After each point is scored, fencers return to the line to begin again.

According to all four fencers, nearly anyone can come and pick up the sport, and that’s the beauty of it. But learning to perform the sport in the most effective manner can lead to using your body and muscles in entirely new ways.

“It’s an asymmetric sport, so it uses different parts of your body in different ways,” said Festin. “So like with football and soccer, you’re running and upright using your whole body. With fencing you’re like flat, you’re applying different parts of your body in different ways, and you’re

not used to that.”

For Farran McManus, he liked the idea of not needing predetermined genetics to be successful at the sport. “It’s nice to be, like skinny, but still fit, and able to perform. I don’t have to be super, super buff, you know, like football players.”

“So you got to have strong wrists,” said Cohen Welling. “That takes time to build up. You have to hold [the sword] in such a weird way that it hurts, your fingers and tendons cramp up. So it’s been a while to get used to that.”

And contrary to popular belief, it’s not just swinging a sword around, according to Festin. Strategy and technique makes up a large part of the sport as athletes attack, defend, and counterattack. “There are certain moves that we have,” he said. “We have moves for attacking, we have lunges. There’s a whole lot you build

Cohen Welling (right) and Michael Festin duel in a practice session at West Point Elementary School as part of the Ewa Fencing Club through the Dysart Community Education Department.

up with what you can do, and the more you’re comfortable with it, the better you can fence.”

As for the Junior Olympics, both Logan and Farran have competed there before. For Michael and Cohen, this will be their first time. Each didn’t have a goal for the event other than to gain valuable experience, have fun, and meet friends. Their competitive nature with the sport is obvious, but it’s clear they are content just participating and having a good time.

“The first year I ever went, it was crazy how many people were there, like 3,000 or 4,000 people at, like, this huge convention center,” said McManus. “I did not do very well because it was just like the nerves plus everything, right? But then the second year, I started to actually get really good at fencing. I got my A-rating, so I was like, just don’t put too much pressure on myself.”

As for their futures in fencing beyond the Junior

Olympics experience, unlike other sports, fencing isn’t quite as prevalent in college. Some schools have programs, but they are mostly Ivy League and only take the best of the best in the nation. However, the beauty of fencing is that athletes can continue to train and compete in events for as long as they want. There are ratings, but no real age brackets. Athletes can compete into their 80s if they want, working with different clubs to get better along the way. That seems to be what all four students want to do with their fencing future, along with making friends and just having fun.

“The biggest thing is not even the active fencing, because that alone is obviously fun,” said Festin. “Like you get to fence, it’s a fun sport, right? But the thing that really brings it together is the community and just the people that are involved. Everyone is just so welcoming. It’s just a great place to be.”

14 APRIL 2023
Farran McManus (Left) and Logan Laursen battle against each other during a practice session at West Point Elementary School.
*Room and board additional. The West Valley Spirit Award is not combinable with Varsity sports and other scholarship activities. Must meet admissions criteria and be fully accepted to Ottawa University Arizona to be eligible for the West Valley Spirit Award. Ottawa University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (, a regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is an independent corporation that was founded in 1895 as one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States. HLC accredits degree-granting post-secondary education institutions in the North Central region, which includes 19 states including Kansas. The federal government has a distinct interest in the role of accreditation in assuring quality in higher education for the students who benefit from federal financial aid program. By being recognized by the US Department of Education as a gatekeeper agency, the Commission agrees to fulfill specific federally defined responsibilities within the accreditation processes, as described by HLC $19,400 West Valley Spirit Award! EXCLUSIVELY for West Valley High School students. GREAT NEWS! As you prepare to graduate from a Dysart School, you may be eligible for a $19,400 WEST VALLEY SPIRIT AWARD! This EXCLUSIVE award applies to TUITION, FEES, A MEAL PLAN, and MORE every year! Plus, when you’re accepted and enroll* next fall, you pay just $17,000 per year. The results of your FAFSA may entitle you to even more savings. As you continue to meet the grade criteria as a full-time student, your cost for tuition and fees will not increase. • 15950 N. Civic Center Plaza, Surprise, Arizona Let’s talk today! • 855.546.1342

The High School Athletic Development


Longlasting athletic success, much like a long-lasting structure, must be built in the correct order in order to stand the test of time. The following four aspects of success; discipline, effort, consistency, and fun must be layered on top of one another in order to sustain each other. This pyramid is designed to aid a young athlete and his/her parents on how to build for long lasting success. This is known as the High School Athletic Development Pyramid of Success. Much like the famous John Wooden Pyramid of Success, this is designed to be easy to understand and act as a building block for future success.

Discipline is the foundation of any and all sustained success. This is often times what separates the good from the average and the great from the good. In any aspect of athletic development, the intended skill must be performed the correct way. If the drill is being done incorrectly, all you are doing is perfecting an incorrect skill. If you are constantly pulling up before the finish line during practice then you will pull up when it is time to race. The old idiom of practice makes perfect is only a half truth. Practice makes perfect only when practiced perfectly. Without this aspect of discipline acting as a foundation for success there is little sustainability.

Once the drill, lift, or skill is being performed correctly

in a disciplined matter it is time to put forth greater effort into that drill. Our bodies are designed to live and operate in a comfort zone (homeostatic range). In order for the body to compensate and grow that comfort zone must be stressed. If there is no stress put onto the body there is no response to rebuild and repair the intercellular structure of the skeletal muscle tissue. The effort put into the drill, lift, or skill will determine the return on investment of that drill. If little effort is put in there will be little stress, there will be little repair, and there will be little improvement. Put your full effort into what you are doing in that moment to get the desired outcome.

If you attend a practice or perform a great training session with effort and discipline… that is great! You got the most out of that day but that is one day. One great day out of the week will not lead you where you need to go. Part time consistency yields part time results while full time consistency yields full time results. Keep showing up to your assigned practices, training session, and skill sessions over and over and over again. Discipline and effort recycled again and again over the course of weeks, months, and years is what allows for development to occur. This is how people change their bodies through training. This is how skills are perfected and mastered. Life happens and you might miss a day or two from time to time. But those who are consistent are

& CSCS, Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at Willow Canyon High School Clay Bewley poses for a photo in the Willow Canyon High School weight room.

the ones who see lasting success.

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Mental and emotional burnout is a real thing and has claimed the careers of countless athletes. Not every practice will be fun and not every training session will be a walk in the park. Ups and downs during a season will happen. So, when success does occur in play or in training, take a small moment, smile, and celebrate that success. Celebrate a new personal record set in training. Find times to laugh during a good practice. Cherish the moment when you made the play during the game. Finding joy fuels, one’s competitive fire and can help lead to further success. If this joy is not cultivated and protected, this is when burnout occurs. Also, when the time is right taking some time away from the field of competition so when you arrive at practice or training you arrive with a smile on your face and not dread in your heart. We play our best when we are having fun… don’t forget the main reason why you fell in love with your sport in the first place. It was fun.

Coach Clay’s Pyramid of Success


showing up and getting better EFFORT
your best at the job once it’s being done correctly
FUN Enjoy
your job the way it is supposed to be done
A Willow Canyon High School athlete lifts weights at the school as part of his football athletic class, which allows students to build muscle, work on techniques for the sport, and watch film during the school day.

MENTORING the next generation

Sundown Mountain Alternative Education Program students recently visited classrooms at El Mirage Elementary School as part of a mentoring program established by the Student Council at Sundown. Sundown Mountain began the mentorship program as a way to develop their leadership skills and build positive relationships with preschool students at El Mirage.

“Sundown mentors are service-minded individuals whose primary goal is to foster, encourage and bond with students who are at risk,” shared Ricardo Lopez, Sundown Mountain Job Specialist and student council sponsor.

The students were a large part of the planning process as they met with Rick Haney, Assistant Principal at El Mirage, to discuss research-based mentoring programs and the specific activities that would benefit the K-4 students. The Student Council landed on team and character building activities to break the ice with the younger students and develop a rapport. Students then led in-class tutoring in reading and math.

“This program has so much potential,” shared Haney. “I hope we can grow it into an elective class for the high school students, so they can be here everyday, making even more of an impact with our Tigers.”

“I was excited for the opportunities this could provide our students, as well as the students at El Mirage,” said Bobbie Lockhart, Sundown Mountain Principal. “We have only just begun to see the potential this mentorship presents for all of the students. The impact on the high schoolers has already been profound.”

In the pictures above, a Sundown Mountain Alternative Education Program student work with younger grade level students at El Mirage Elementary School as part of the mentorship program created. A Sundown Mountain Alternative Education Program student works with kiddos on reading at El Mirage Elementary School as part of the mentorship program.


Meet the students running a full service post office out of their school designed to teach writing, communication, and that personal touch associated with letter writing!

20 APRIL 2023
Students from Freedom Traditional Academy Post Office pose for a photograph with their badges and mail boxes.

Somemay say that letter writing is an archaic form of communication and the United States Postal Service (USPS) is becoming obsolete with the advent of technology such as email, smartphones, and social media. However, at Freedom Traditional Academy (FTA), a K-8 school in Surprise that prides itself on those traditional aspects of education, the idea of the post office and mail is now alive and thriving. Earlier this year they began the Freedom Postal Service, a student-run club focused on developing those skills that may have been lost in the 21st Century.

“Since our school is working on improving student writing as a school-wide goal, I thought this idea would be a really nice way to tie into that,” said Linda Johnson, a teacher at FTA who developed the program.

Developing a working post office inside a Kindergarten through 8th grade school is no easy task. Mrs. Johnson framed it almost exactly around how the USPS operates and distributes mail. First she secured mailboxes for every single classroom in the school. Additionally, there is a school-wide mailbox located in the front office for parents and staff to use.

Next, they needed addresses. Each hallway with the school was given a name that serves as the “street.” Each classroom already had a

number associated with it, thereby giving Mrs. Johnson the framework for getting each piece of mail to the correct person. An example address might look like this:

Now, parents, students, and staff could write letters, address them, and it was possible to get it to the correct student. While creating postage was an important teaching tool, Mrs. Johnson didn’t want to use real stamps. So each letter must have a stamp, but that stamp can literally be anything.

“They can create their own stamp, they can make a stamp, they can draw a stamp, they can use a sticker as a stamp. But there has to be some sort of a stamp,” said Mrs. Johnson.

“And if there’s no stamp, then the students would return to sender. And we try to circle the area that’s a problem so that hopefully the teacher can help the student learn why this is coming back to you.”

Next the school had to develop a way for the mail to be gathered, sorted, and delivered. What better way to teach students about how the post office works than to select a group of students to “work” the school post office? The Freedom Postal Service has a mailroom in the building that is operated by a select group of students who were required to successfully complete an application and interview process.

“We are trying to build leaders, and so we want the students to step up and apply for the job,” said Mrs. Johnson. “We want them to want to do the job, we want them to put in the time, and you know, do the best they can for our school. And so the goal is to develop great leaders and taking on a leadership role like that is a big responsibility.”

Mail is processed and delivered every week on Friday to Freedom students and staff. And

“ “
I think it’s good for these kids to express themselves in a different way.
- Abbey Rasmussen
A student holds up the Freedom Traditional Stamp used in the school post office.

The Freedom Traditional Academy Sorter takes the mail to be delivered and sorts it by “streets” so that they can be delivered. Each hallway has a street name in the school and room numbers serve as the street number to complete the address.

The central mail drop is seen in the front area of Freedom Traditional Academy. Parents and staff can drop off their letters in this large mail box, which will be collected, sorted, and delivered on each Friday at the school.

The Freedom Traditional Postmaster picks up mail from the office to take for sorting and delivering,

just like the regular post office, Freedom has jobs and responsibilities for each student participating in the program. The postmaster is responsible for all the employees, picks up mail from the central mail drop, helps train new employees, and fills in for absent employees.

“I love any situation where it has them be responsible,” said Abbey Rasmussen, mother of Nash, a student at Freedom. “Nash got to be the Postmaster, which he was really excited about, and I thought it was great because it taught him great responsibility. He was in charge of a team. He had to come early, and I love that he was excited about it.”

“I’ve always been interested in how the post office works, so I wanted to see, and then I tried it and it was really fun,” said Nash Rasmussen. “I just like seeing everyone else work and helping them and how they got better.”

Additional jobs include the Facer, who places all envelopes the same way. The Canceller cancels all stamps. The Nixie Clerk checks addresses for proper form and punctuation and stamps letters “Return to Sender” if not correct. The sorter sorts mail by streets, places mail in sorting boxes, and rubber bands all letters to a specific address and places them in mailbag. Finally, the Letter Carrier delivers mail to designated addresses.

“I thought it was very exciting and fun for me because we actually had to learn how to work together more, and it was pretty cool,” said Shamiran Tamou, a 5th grader at Freedom.

Teachers are providing knowledge of basic skills such as writing a letter, addressing

24 APRIL 2023
Letter carriers for the Freedom Traditional Academy Post Office travel through the hallways, or streets, delivering mail to each of the classrooms. Students deliver the mail every Friday to staff and students throughout the year. Mrs. Linda Johnson explains to a student the sorting process in the Freedom Traditional Academy Post Office. Mrs. Johnson started the post office club at the school to help students better learn to write, as well as to educate students on the post office process.

envelopes, using the mail system, and using ZIP codes. The goal is that teachers are instructing at different levels on how to write a letter, what’s appropriate to put in the letter, and how to address and send a letter. Teachers will often times have their whole class write a letter to their buddy class, which allows a large number of students to receive mail.

As for who else writes letters, the sky’s the limit. Students are writing to siblings and other students, teachers, and staff. Office staff send birthday letters with little treats to the students. They’ll also send little jokes to the different classes. Parents are obviously encouraged to send letters to their students. It could be a birthday wish, good luck, a thank you, a thinking of you, or whatever they want.

“One of my students got a gift card reward from his parents in the mail because he had improved so much on something,” said Johnson. “Parents that are using it love it because it gives them another way to give their child a pick-me-up at the end of the week. And so the goal, the intention hopefully, is that in the future, the

word just spreads that, you know, this is another way to communicate with your child.”

“I think it’s good for these kids to express themselves in a different way,” said Abbey Rasmussen. “I was able to write letters and drop them off in the middle of the day. They would get a letter from their mom saying ‘I love you, and I am proud of you.’ It’s another way to be kind and build someone else up and help them to be excited and have a good day.”

Besides teaching the students how to write a letter, how the post office works, and how having a job and responsibilities are important, the other dominant benefit of the program is community and culture.

“I think one of the big, big goals of the postal system is just to have a community feel throughout the school,” said Mrs. Johnson. “And so, you know, just like in your neighborhood, it just brings a community feel. And it’s just one more way that I feel like at our school, we try to make this feel like a family. And so, you know, that’s the goal.”

“It’s cool. It’s just fun to have something different that most schools don’t have,” said Nash Rasmussen.

FEATURE 602-457-4606 18295 N 83RD AVE, GLENDALE, AZ 85308 GLENDALE.KTR-CENTERS.COM SCAN THE QR CODE TO SEE OUR BEST DEALS! KTR is the ultimate Indoor Action Sports Playground where every child—regardless of age, gender or athletic ability—has Freedom to Play, an unconventional approach that inspires kids to discover their true potential and challenges them to take their play to the next level through wall-to-wall activity and sports. You won’t what’sbelieveinside! COMMUNITY CONNECT MAGAZINE 25


Countless nights for the past four years have been spent studying, writing, volunteering, preparing, and striving towards the best possible future. The dream has always been an Ivy League University and now the time has come where high school is about to end. Over the summer before senior year, Shadow Ridge High School Senior Marissa LeLevier seized the opportunity of attending a Harvard class.

Throughout LeLevier’s high school career she maintained a 4.0 grade point average and will graduate at the top of her class at Shadow Ridge. Not only that, but she had also participated in multiple clubs, sports, and had over 200 hours of community service. “By being active in our community and within our high school, I hope to show I am well-rounded and a great fit for a university like Harvard,” said LeLevier. Prepping college applications and resumes proved to be harder than it seemed. “While these activities will help me during the application process, it can get stressful. I am constantly busy as well as trying to balance my social life and mental health. It requires an abundance of discipline and motivation,” said LeLevier. Yet, she always kept her eyes on her goal and future and remembered why she is working so hard. “There are times where I get into a slump but it’s important I always keep pushing. This is my dream and the life I want so that’s why I’ve managed to make it this far,” said LeLevier.

For What’s Next

Towards the beginning of high school, LeLevier had envisioned herself attending the University of California San Diego or New York University. No school like Harvard was seen as realistic in her eyes, however the email inviting LeLevier to apply to the summer session had changed her view. “When I was accepted, I was ecstatic. I met amazing people and professors that summer and it made me realize that the Harvard environment was where I wanted to spend the next four years,” said LeLevier. She planned on becoming a neonatal surgeon which needs an undergraduate degree from a university and then years in medical school. “If I attend a prestigious university during undergraduate, then I’ll be opening doors to better opportunities down the road,” said LeLevier.

Overall the summer insight into the potential of LeLevier’s new life was critical for her own understanding. “At Harvard University, I learned how to adapt to a new environment. The vibe on campus is completely different than here. I also had to learn the city, which is again very different from Arizona.” said LeLevier.

The time in Massachusetts was not only a learning moment in the classroom but also in everyday life. “I benefited by gaining experience living on my own and being solely responsible for my coursework. I would say my time at Harvard University pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to take on new opportunities,” said LeLevier.

26 APRIL 2023
- Marissa LeLevier
I met amazing people and professors that summer and it made me realize that the Harvard environment was where I wanted to spend the next four years.
(Top) Marissa LeLevier poses with students in her summer session at Harvard University (Right) Marissa LeLevier poses for photos around campus at Harvard University, where she attended a summer session and will pursue her undergraduate degree in neonatal surgery.
Noah Axelson (left) and Stephen MacKeller (right) pose for a photo in their gymnasium. They worked to create the Financial Fitness in Action Program at the school.


Meet two high school students who brought a Financial Literacy program to Shadow Ridge designed to help the younger generation learn how to budget and plan for financial success.


Matthew Kuffel, Assistant Principal at Shadow Ridge High Schools speaks to students about their experience at the Financial Literacy event.

Asthe sun rose early at Shadow Ridge High School in the fall of 2022, students had some big decisions to make - should I buy a large house or live in a one bedroom apartment? Do I have enough extra money to go out to eat this weekend? Is that name-brand cereal that is two dollars more than the generic really worth it? While these questions are crucial to adults, do students in high school really think about these things?

Stephen MacKeller and Noah Axelson, both students at Shadow Ridge, would answer, “absolutely, they should!” to the question posed above. In coordination with the Arizona Council of Economic Education (ACEE), MacKellar and Axelson worked to implement the Financial Fitness in Action program at Shadow Ridge this past Fall.

“A lot of students go into their daily lives after high school lacking budgeting skills and proper spending skills and we wanted to bring that education to our classmates,” said Axelson.

“This program would help these students understand many of the real-world costs and help them budget for their adult life after high school,” said MacKeller.

More than 150 students from Business Marketing and Economics classes at Shadow Ridge High School participated in the Financial Fitness in Action event over the course of two hours this past November. ACEE supplied the materials along with industry volunteers to help facilitate the program.

Students participated in a fun, interactive, lifeafter high school simulation of saving, spending, and budgeting based on career choices and lifestyle decisions. Based on the career, salary, and credit score assigned, students made decisions that affect their finances, such as renting an apartment on their own or having a roommate, buying or leasing a vehicle, purchasing phones and/or cable, and saving for their retirement.

Stephen and Noah, who are Business and Marketing students and participate in the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO), planned the event from start to finish.

Business Marketing is a Career and Technical Education program within the Dysart Unified School District, which prepares students for employment in various sales, customer service, advertising and promotion, and firstline supervisory positions. Students are able to explore, understand, and apply marketing, management, and entrepreneurial principles.

Both students saw the lack of knowledge in their fellow classmates when it comes to finances and planning and thought the event would be helpful to teach students about budgeting and saving.

“You see the common trope of a 16-year-old who gets a job and blows all their paycheck and then complains that they have no money,” shared Stephen.

The main goal of bringing the event to Shadow Ridge was to provide high school aged students with information on financial literacy in an accessible way. Additionally, Noah and Stephen needed a project subject to compete in the DECA state competition held in February 2023.

DECA is one of the many CTSOs available for CTE students. DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and provides opportunities for state, national and international travel through internships, camps and leadership conferences.

Stephen did research on different curriculum throughout the state and found the ACEE opportunity. The Financial Fitness in Action was


brought to the school previously but on a smaller scale through Zoom as the group was not hosting in-person events at time due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Stephen and Noah worked closely with their Business Marketing teacher, Mollie Fussell, and school administration to implement the event. Both students served as project managers and took the extensive steps to bring Financial Literacy in Action to the Shadow Ridge High School campus.

MacKellar and Axelson held preliminary meetings with ACEE representatives to begin the planning process. They planned out logistics for the event setup and reached out to teachers to allow class time for the event and requested that participation points be allocated by each teacher to ensure students were engaged during the event.

“Stephen and Noah did a very great job in coordinating this event and took pride in doing it,” shared Michelle Bohon, Lead Counselor at Shadow Ridge High School. Mrs. Bohon supported and encouraged them throughout

the planning process and was a volunteer at the Housing table during the event.

The day of the event began early as set up for the event needed to be completed prior to first hour students arriving during their scheduled time.

Students were given a rubric that listed their occupation, income as well as family information. Participants went to a series of decision-making stations led by community volunteers, industry leaders, teachers, and counselors where they discussed budget and guided students in planning for housing, healthcare, auto insurance, groceries, entertainment, and more. As students spoke to volunteers at each station, they made financial decisions to complete their budgeting rubric.

One example of an occupational profile utilized for the event was a chef who earned $57,711 annually. After the various budgeting components were filled out, a Wheel of Life station manned by Stephen and Noah threw a wrench in their money planning decisions.

Much like life, finances can be unpredictable. Students

Student participants at Shadow Ridge High School speak to community volunteers to plan their budget as part of the Financial Literacy Program implemented by Noah Axelson and Stephen MacKeller.

spun the wheel of life and were faced with surprise, reallife situations such as traffic tickets and car repairs that impacted their financial planning.

“This step was important because it represented random mishaps that happen throughout life that you can’t really budget for but you have to be ready for,” said Stephen.

“Students that planned well and had savings leftover could budget for those incidents and others went back to previous stations to try to cut back on things like entertainment,” said Noah.

As students were completing the exercise, many were surprised at the actual cost of items and how much they do not know about financial planning.

“It was cool to see how happy my fellow students were when they were under budget, how shocked they were about how much they spent on life necessities, and the sacrifices they had to make as they were going through the process,” said Axelson.

The event also elicited funny responses: “I am never moving out of my parents house,” shared one participant and a freshman student at the Entertainment planning table said, “my kids are going to the fire station for a free, fun outing versus an expensive day at the movie theater.”

“I definitely feel the seniors had a more optimistic attitude and were more engaged in the activity as they are on the cusp of making these important financial decisions as they get closer to buying a car or renting an apartment,” shared Stephen.

The response of the event was overwhelmingly positive as a survey was given prior to the event and an exit survey was administered after the completion of the event. Data referenced that 91.7% of the students stated they “strongly agree” with the fact that they learned something from the program.

These data findings were included in Stephen and Noah’s project at the DECA Arizona State Career

Development (SCDC) conference held at the Arizona Grand in February 2023.

“We submitted a 20-page paper based on the culminating project named Smart Money dictating the journey we took with this Financial Literacy event,” shared MacKeller. “The competition also included a 15 minute presentation with visual displays in front of a judge.”

“The preparation for state is quite substantial and students are given class time to write, interview and practice verbal presentations,” shared Mrs. Fussell. “We have this great program through DECA+ that includes sample role play events and the top three winners from the previous year so they can see the quality expected.”

Stephen and Noah had great success at the conference and earned second place at the state level for their Financial Literacy project and will compete at the DECA International Career Development Conference hosted in Orlando, Florida in April 2023.

Along with Stephen and Noah’s efforts to bring this valuable event to Shadow Ridge, and their accolades at state, Financial Literacy in Action will serve as one of five components needed to qualify students at Shadow Ridge to earn the Arizona Seal of Personal Finance.

The seal recognizes high school students who achieve a high level of proficiency in Personal Finance. The seal is placed upon the student’s diploma and noted on their transcript. Students in Business Marketing classes can earn the additional four requirements for the seal in only two years.

Stephen and Noah were successful in meeting their goal as shared in their Smart Money paper submitted at state, “The goal of the project is to provide high school students at Shadow Ridge High School with knowledge on financial literacy that they will be able to use, and carry into their adult lives.”

- Noah Axelson
It was cool to see how happy my fellow students were when they were under budget, how shocked they were about how much they spent on life necessities...
Stephen MacKellar speaks on camera to ABC15 reporter, Nick Ciletti, who covered the Financial Fitness in Action event as a feature for a news story.
Financial Fitness in Action instruction sheet for volunteers. Shadow Ridge High School DECA students, including Noah Axelson and Stephen MacKeller pose with awards at the Arizona DECA Conference in February.


Members of the American Rosie the Riveters Association (ARRA) Sun City Chapter visited the seventh grade team at Canyon Ridge School recently to perform an assembly for students in collaboration with their studies on the exploration of America during the Second World War.

Florence Cook, who served as a Rosie the Riveter in the California defense industry in 1944, shared her recollections of the early days of World War Two and her work on aircraft components for the Boeing company.

“The attack on Pearl Harbor was a shocking thing and young ladies wanted to do their part to support our country. I started work as a Rosie at the age of 18; right out of high school. You didn’t think about the broader war too much, you just kept doing your job.”

More than six million Rosie the Riveters served on the home front during the war. In factories across the country, they collectively produced over three hundred thousand aircraft, one hundred thousand tanks, fifteen million guns and over forty-one million rounds of ammunition. Their efforts were key to the American and Allied victory in the conflict.

“Rosies came from all walks of life and did so much more than just rivets,” states American Rosie the Riveters Association ARRA Vice President Linda

Lundberg. “Some Rosies were mechanics, electricians, welders, trainers and inspectors. They even became pilots and flew many types of aircraft from the factory to transport points that shipped war materials overseas.”

The students at Canyon Ridge School prepared detailed questions with follow up comments for all of the presenters. Students offered facts regarding the Second World War that they had learned in Social Studies class through reading, discussion, and internet research. They applied this knowledge to the real world scenarios, experiences, and the recollections of the presenters. This established strong community connections and a baseline for the historical context of events. Students came to recognize how major trends in history affect individual lives; as well as the fate of nations.

“The contribution of the Rosie the Riveters was one of the main reasons we won the war,” declared American Rosie the Riveters Association (ARRA) Sun City Chapter President, Barbara Cook. “Our Rosies had to do their best with every machine or component they built as American lives were at stake. Rosies were never considered Veterans by the Armed Forces but they managed to win the war without ever firing a gun. They built over fifteen million of them instead.”

Linda Lindberg (left), Florence Cook (center), and Barbara Cook (right), pose for a photograph at Canyon Ridge School, where they presented information to students on the Rosie the Riveter efforts during World War II. The ladies are part of the American Rosie the Riveters Association Sun City Chapter.
Barbara Cook, president of ARRA in Sun City, speaks with students at Canyon Ridge during a presentation on Rosie the Riveters.
A collection of images from the Rosie the Riveter event at Canyon Ridge School, including some of the posters displayed to students that were used for marketing and promotion during World War II.

Finding Your Community The Journey of a

Special Education Mom

Likeany parent, we want our kids with disabilities to be able to have the best life that they can, but we often face more challenges than a typical parent does. It can be hard to admit that because I don’t want anyone to look at my life and think that I am burdened by my son’s disability. But not acknowledging those struggles would be a disservice to all that he has overcome.

One of the biggest challenges for parents in this situation is the isolation that families can feel when they have a child with a disability, and/or that is identified as qualifying for an IEP or 504 plan. It singles them out from the life they had envisioned as well as the childhood they had envisioned for their children.

There’s also an enormous learning curve. When parents first receive a diagnosis for their child:

• They need to learn how to help their child best with their day-to-day needs;

• They have to learn what their child’s diagnosis means for childhood, adolescence, and adulthood;

• They have to learn how to navigate a very complex system in public schools to get evaluations and IEPs;

• They need to learn all the jargon that goes along with IEPs and similar accommodations.

My journey started with doing a lot of online research about my son’s diagnosis and how best I could help him. I also had to find my identity as a parent to a child with a disability. Was I going to be a parent who wanted to “fix” their child and was constantly searching for a cure, or was I going to be a parent that accepted their child for

exactly who they are?

When my son was first diagnosed, we lived in Montana, and there was little to no support for parents like me. I joined a few Facebook groups, but I still felt alone and isolated when learning about autism and how I could help my son thrive.

When we moved to Missouri, I was fortunate to stumble upon the charter meeting for the Columbia special education PTSA. I ended up being a part of a closeknit group of moms who really wanted to change the world by providing community, support, and advocacy assistance and to make the school system there do better for our kids than they were doing. Through that group, I learned to trust myself and my instincts, especially those that insisted my views of my child were not wrong – he is intelligent, he is worth the effort to find the way that he learns and he is deserving of inclusion in all forms. He’s such a cool kid!

When I came to Arizona, I wanted that same community and support for myself and my son, not the isolation and loneliness I’d felt in Montana. I also wanted this for the families and students in my new city. That’s why I worked to get a special education PTSA for Dysart started in July 2021.

Another challenge that parents face when their child receives a disability diagnosis is feeling like they’ve been tossed into the ocean without first knowing how to swim. In other words, feeling overwhelmed and unprepared when it comes to your child’s educational needs. You have to learn how the school system works, how it’s

My journey started with doing a lot of online research about my son’s diagnosis and how best I could help him.
- Sara Rivera

set up to work when it comes to IEPs and 504s, and how to prepare for and then analyze evaluations and reevaluations.

There is a deluge of information that you never thought you would need to know just to get your kids through school, and you’re at a disadvantage in that first IEP meeting because you’re still reeling from the new normal you find yourself in. For example, when my son was diagnosed with autism, I didn’t really know what that meant for us or him. A week after his diagnosis I found myself in his first IEP meeting. I was homeschooled, and then I went to a private school, so public school was a completely foreign realm to me, let alone learning about and asking for all the accommodations necessary for my son.

What helps with that is, again, a community of parents who know exactly what you’re going through. They can explain confusing jargon or concepts and provide insight into how the school’s accommodation system works. There is so much that I wished I’d known back then. Yet another challenge is learning to navigate your emotions and responses when advocating for your child. Sometimes it’s all too easy to stay in perpetual “mama bear” mode, and forgetting to start your advocacy from a view point of grace.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes “mama bear” mode can be necessary, if you’re dealing with a school system breaking the law or refusing reasonable accommodation for your children. However, there can’t be cooperation without mutual trust. There have been times especially early on in our journey that I trusted school staff because I didn’t trust myself to know my son’s needs and that trust proved to be misplaced. But I’m glad that I still come to the table from a place of trust, including in myself, and leave “mama bear” for when it is needed and not as a default.

The issue is that schools can’t always do what’s best for my son because they have to do what’s best for the school. Whether it’s due to limited resources or short staffing. If I’d approached every encounter in mama bear mode, claws out and teeth showing, it would have been difficult for all of us to continue forward in cooperation.

There will be times when they drop the ball, or you drop the ball, and the best thing we can do is to give each other grace and recognize that we’re only ordinary humans who make mistakes. What’s important to keep in mind is that we do have the best interests in mind for our child, and, most of the time, so do the school personnel, and starting from that assumption on both sides will make the road ahead that much smoother.

There are going to be times when there are

disagreements, sometimes significant disagreements, and it’s difficult to learn how to discern when you need to push harder and when you need to let it go. It’s a tough place to be in, and the discernment is something that comes with time, but it’s also enormously helpful to have a community of people that you can rely on to discuss matters with and get their neutral perspective – especially if they’ve had similar experiences.

Finally, what helps parents like me face our challenges most is when we get support from families whose kids don’t need accommodations. We feel supported when they join with us in helping our kids participate fully in school activities.

For example, if your child’s classroom has a child with disabilities, and during an event like Meet the Teacher Night the teacher apologizes to you for the noise or similar, you can respond, “You know, I really like that the classroom is really diverse and it helps my student when there’s more diversity in the classroom.”

When you do this, you let everybody around you know that you enjoy having an inclusive, diverse classroom, because it really does benefit everybody.

If you would like to join the Dysart Special Education PTSA you can find them on Facebook or their website

Sara Rivera, President and Founder of the Dysart Special Education Parent Teacher Student Association, poses for a photo while volunteering in a classroom at Western Peaks Elementary School.
Dysart Unified School District 15802 North Parkview Place Surprise, Arizona 85374 ***** ECRWSS ** Postal Customer Nonprofit U.S. Postage Paid Phoenix, Arizona Permit No. 1664 [community capture] + Artwork by Chandler Linski, Cimarron Springs Middle School
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.