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July 19 - August 1, 2014


Teen travels to Boston to hone clarinet skills BY MEGHAN MCCOY

A 16-year-old Chandler student is calling Boston University his summer home as he perfects his clarinet performance at a workshop for teens. “I have certainly developed incredibly as a player,” says Thomas Desrosiers, who attends Corona de Sol High School. Desrosiers is participating in Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute Clarinet Workshop and Young Artists Wind Ensemble through Monday, July 28. He was accepted into the program after providing an audition videotape of him playing a few clarinet excerpts and two contrasting solo pieces. “In March, BUTI offered him a spot and a scholarship. A week later, CWU (Central Washington University) offered him a spot and a scholarship,” his parents, Julieta and Bob Desrosiers, explain in a joint emailed statement. “It was a difficult decision, but we opted to focus solely on BUTI’s two-week clarinet workshop. We thought that was the end of it, but later received another invitation to participate in BUTI-Young Artists Wind Ensemble, a four-week program right after the clarinet workshop. The scholarship was a very nice offer, but we still could not afford the second program. After a few calls back and forth, Thomas received a hefty scholarship to attend the Young Artist Wind Ensemble for almost free of charge.” Since arriving at the camp, Thomas has participated in ensemble rehearsals,

individual practices and attended afternoon concerts. He says he has learned a lot of new ideas, techniques and materials. “It is really incredible because it is such a high level of playing and high level of maturity,” Thomas says. “Back at home, there would be only a few kids practicing 10 hours in a day. Here it is everyone. You get to be with your own kind in a way because they enjoy the same things you do.” The camp, Thomas says, develops individuals into players, not only during the weeks they are enrolled, but when they return home. He says the Boston University camp provides ample opportunities to make connections with professors and guest artists. Thomas says he came to the camp hoping it would guide him toward a career path. “I came to this camp hoping it would be a deciding factor of whether or not I would pursue music in the future or science,” he says. “Even though it has been almost a month of being here, I still have not come to a conclusion.” Alexander Borodin, an 1800s composer and chemist, is the teen’s inspiration. “He was not only a great performer, but a noted chemist,” Thomas says. “He found time to do both science and music, which is really what I admire.” Thomas’ interest in the clarinet began while he was in fifth grade after a musician visited his elementary school

CLARINET: Chandler resident and Corona del Sol High School student Thomas Desrosiers is participating in the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Clarinet Workshop and Young Artists Wind Ensemble this summer. Submitted photo

and demonstrated various instruments. The sound of the clarinet grabbed his attention, and he has kept it for the past five years because of its versatility. He says he can play jazz or classical music with the clarinet with a dark tone or bright clear sound. “It can really do anything depending on the player,” Thomas explains. He is a member of the Youth Ensemble

at Phoenix Youth Symphony. In the fall, he will join the Youth Symphony of Southwest and will continue playing with the Wind Ensemble at Corona del Sol High School and King of Glory Clarinet Choir. Meghan McCoy is the Neighbors and Business section editor for the SanTan Sun News. She can be reached at meghan@

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Teaching children to swim imperative to water safety BY TRACY HOUSE

So far this year, there have been 90 water-related incidents in Arizona resulting in 29 deaths—11 of those children, according to Children’s Safety Zone. The Arizona Department of Health Services reports drowning is the leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 4. In a state that has one pool for every 20,000 people, the highest per capita in the nation, knowing how to swim is imperative to safety. Lana Whitehead, founder of SWIMkids USA, has made teaching children to swim her goal. A leading expert in baby/child swimming, Whitehead has more than 40 years of experience in researching and teaching that she shares with parents. Water safety should start early. “We start them really young,” Whitehead says. “The younger the easier.” She helps introduce babies, as young as 3 months, held by parents to the water. “It’s very bonding, because it’s skin to skin, eye to eye, face to face. It’s very tactile.” She explains that tactile stimulation is important to a child’s development. The process is loving and gentle she says, providing an introduction for the child to the water. Introducing the infants to the water is a way of getting them comfortable in the water, assists with long-term development, increases bonding with parents—there’s more to it than teaching

baby to swim. “It’s developmental jumpstart for the kids, plus they love it,” Whitehead says. “Twirling them in the water is fun.” She says physiologically there are numerous advantages for introducing a child to the water early. Whitehead says toddlers age 8 months and older learn to swim with parents in a nurturing environment, learning to float on their backs and find the side of the pool. “Rolling on their back is essential,” she says. “In Arizona, it’s so easy for this (drowning) to happen, because water is everywhere.” At about 18 months, toddlers can begin working with an instructor in the water on skills. The earlier intervention and awareness of water are important for a child. Whitehead says some children 5 years old come to lessons afraid of water. “We love those kids,” she says. “We have a lot of compassion for them because they are so afraid. We eventually get them to love the water.” One point Whitehead stresses is not to give children water wings. “If I could ban those I would.” She recalls two drownings related to water wings. “These kids were older and they had the water wings on. They have a false sense of security.”

SMART move Whitehead is the national spokeswoman for Water SMART

BLOWING BUBBLES: Babies can become water smart at a young age. There are many emotional and physical benefits when a child learns to swim. Submitted photo

Babies, an innovative program that has pediatricians giving prescriptions for swimming lessons. The national initiative includes talking about taking lessons, pool barriers and touch supervision. Introducing a child to the water early and teaching him or her to swim are imperative to child safety and preventing drowning. Trained instructors can help children learn the necessary skills for swimming and work with reluctant children to overcome fears. Another aspect to pool safety is barriers to pools. “If you have any doubt or inkling of getting a fence, get a fence,”

Whitehead says. “No matter what it costs, get a fence. With my own house, we lock the gates. We have padlocks on the gates, even into the yard because of neighbor kids. Whatever you can do, do as much as you possibly can.” Touch supervision is another important pool safety prevention Whitehead notes that pediatricians are supporting. “The parents or guardian who is watching has to be within arms-length of the child he is watching.” This allows the child to grab the adult SEE WATER SAFETY PAGE 28


July 19 - August 1, 2014


if need be and the adult is less apt to be on the phone or doing something else. Even with a lifeguard on duty, parents should be watchful of children near a pool. She stresses never make the assumption that someone else is watching your child. Even at the public pools. Whitehead says, “Don’t count on the lifeguards, because you can’t count on other people doing it.” Whitehead’s dedication and expertise are evident in her passion for teaching

Youth children of all ages to swim. “People don’t realize drowning is silent,” she says. SWIMkids USA offers free baby swim lessons for infants 2 to 7 months. Located at 2725 W. Guadalupe Rd., Mesa, SWIMkids USA has classes and schedules available online at www.swimkidsaz. com or call (480) 820-9109 for more information. Tracy House is the news editor for the SanTan Sun News. She can be reached at

STUDENT CHRONICLES Danielle Callahan is one of only 11 singers accepted into the 2014 Vocal Arts graduate program at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. In 2012, Danielle earned a Bachelor of Music cum laude from Westminster Choir College. Danielle is a 2006 graduate of Hamilton High School. Brandon Carr of Chandler is a Spring 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Crookston in Crookston, Minnesota. Brandon earned a degree in marketing. Candace Cook of Chandler is a Spring 2014 graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Candace earned a Bachelor of Arts. Joshua Garrett of Chandler is a Spring 2014 graduate of University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana. Joshua earned a Bachelor of Science in Theatre.

LEADING EXPERT: Lana Whitehead is an award-winning community activist for Child Health and Safety, international speaker and author and founder/owner of SWIMkids USA. She has more than 40 of experience working with children and swimming. Submitted photo

Navy Seaman Apprentice Zachary E. Jury, son of Earl W. and Sandra E. Jury of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and brother of Sofia Klave of Chandler, recently completed U.S. Navy basic training at Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois. During the eight-week program, Zachary completed a variety of training which included classroom study and practical instruction on naval customs,

first aid, firefighting, water safety and survival, and shipboard and aircraft safety. Alicia Magrini of Chandler is on the Spring 2014 Dean’s List at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. To qualify, fulltime undergraduates must earn a minimum grade point average of 3.6 with no grade below a B in that semester. Erin O’Toole of Chandler, a student at Santan Junior High, remains undefeated as the No. 1 12-year-old female (47 Kilo) judo champion in the U.S. Erin also trains in gymnastics at the Arizona Olympian Gymnastics Center and was recently chosen to be a member of the Santan Junior High cheerleading squad. Richard Raffaele of Chandler is on the Spring 2014 Dean’s List at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon. Qualifying students achieve and maintain a grade point average of 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale while completing a minimum of 12 hours of graded coursework. Madyson Wellcome of Chandler is a Spring 2014 graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Madyson earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Public Health and graduated cum laude.

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July 19 - August 1, 2014


Mandarin Program set to begin at Tarwater BY MEGHAN MCCOY

A waiting list has already begun for kindergarten students enrolling in the Mandarin Program, a newly established two-and-a-half hour dual-immersion program, set to begin this month, at Tarwater Elementary School. “This is the first time I have ever done something like this in my career,” Principal Jeff Hensley says. “It is kind of neat, and hopefully we will have 50 little 5 year olds ready to roll, more if that doesn’t work out.” While working with Arizona State University’s Confucius Institute, Hensley says he was told that a waiting list for the program would not come until the second year. “Once people understood what we were doing, and we had a few parent info nights last year, people were on board very rapidly,” he says. Hensley says the program’s planning began during the early part of last year. The idea hatched after speaking with the principal at Hamilton High School and learning they had a Mandarin teacher. While the two principals shared a cup of coffee, the idea to offer a Mandarin Program for kindergarten through 12th grade was born. “We were able to hire the teacher halfway through last year,” he explains of Ying Shao. Shao, a resident of Chandler since 2003, began her teaching career in China at a university. She worked with special needs children for four years at the Kyrene School District after moving to the States. She says she went back to school to obtain her special needs certification, as well as her elementary education certification. “I like to work with kids,” she says. Hensley says they chose Mandarin for the program because the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense released what the critical languages are going to be over the next 20 years. Mandarin was marked No. 2, behind Arabic. He says

Arizona does a couple billion dollars worth of trade with China, and because his location is close to the Price Road technology and business corridor that does international business, he and his parent clientele saw a need to include the language in the curriculum. “I believe most of them will work with international companies and the government, and they will see the benefit of Mandarin,” Shao says. This school year, Shao will go into two classrooms for two and a half hours a day to work with the students. “I want to make the curriculum fun,” she says. “I’m very excited.” Shao says she has prepared a curriculum that includes songs about nature, body parts and counting numbers, as well as activities. “When they sing the song, they do action,” she says. “They use their hands and their body moves to do the action with the song.” The students will also learn 50 simple characters. She says the students will be combining two simple characters together to form a new character by the end of the year. The kindergarten students will also work on beginning oral and writing proficiency. Shao says she wants parents to know that children will begin to show results after four or five years of taking Mandarin because it’s a challenging language. “They will see their kids’ progress,” she says. Throughout the process of hiring a Chinese teacher for the position, Hensley learned that it is difficult for them to become certified. To teach kindergarten or preschool, he says, teachers need to have an early childhood endorsement certificate. Hensley, as well as his superiors, are on a state committee to try and make some changes for the Mandarin immersion process because of the difficulty to get those teachers certified.

CHINESE NEW YEAR: A kindergarten class at Tarwater Elementary School celebrated the Chinese New Year with English teacher Courtney Veeder, who is one of two teachers that will be working with the Mandarin Program this year. Submitted photo

Because the Chandler Unified School District has been so supportive, Hensley was able to hire firstgrade Chinese teacher Yidan Xu. The program will be implemented during the 2015-2016 school year. “We will be adding a grade level every year until we get to sixth grade,” he says, adding that their goal is to have students taking college credit for their classes starting their freshman year. Hensley says his goal is to find teachers that have stability and are here in the country for a number of years. “My community is used to stability,” he says. “That is really important to me, that long term commitment.” Meghan McCoy is the Neighbors and Business section editor for the SanTan Sun News. She can be reached at

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July 19 - August 1, 2014

Helping your child improve in test taking BY LINDA MCFADYEN NEW VISTAS CENTER FOR EDUCATION

Being able to demonstrate mastery of skills and information is important not just in school, but throughout a chosen career path. So, how do we help children become comfortable and skilled in assessment and test situations? Tests demonstrate a child’s ability to understand course material and master certain skills, and provide benchmarks upon which to measure progress. So what are the skills required to increase the efficiency of study time and the accuracy of test taking? Successful test preparation involves utilizing efficient study methods and limiting those study methods that are only marginally successful. The old methods of highlighting texts and rereading content to grasp information are overused methods and are seldom effective by themselves. So what methods are proving effective?

Self-Testing Self-testing is a very strong method of study. There are different types of self-testing. Triple Note is a great way for students to learn vocabulary and

Pencils, Parents, Precepts and Practicalities This is the fifth installment in an eight-part series about helping your child succeed in school. terms. Students fold three columns: the first contains the word or term; the second contains a definition in their own words; and, the third contains a memory aid, a picture or graphic. The Cornell Method of note taking divides the paper into two main sections—the wide right-hand section contains the notes from class; the narrow left-hand section contains key phrases and important words from the notes; and a third area at the bottom of the page may contain a summary statement. Students use these notes when studying by folding the page to one of the columns and then selftesting themselves.

Elaboration When students “elaborate information,” they actively ask questions about the material. This study method is most effective when learning factual information, especially when students already know something about the topic. Prior knowledge permits the learner to

generate more accurate explanations and enhances retention.

Study Time Intervals It is the opposite of cramming. Children who spread out review of information over several hours or even days will retain information more effectively. This a proven method for everything from mathematics and music to social studies and language arts.

Summarization Study time is more effective when

the student is able to summarize the written page. In other words, when they read a passage or a page they summarize the content in their own words. Students learn the skill of accurately identifying the overall theme or argument which then enables them to recall the details as well. This is a much higher-level skill and requires abstract and inferential thinking. Strategies for taking different kinds of tests:

Multiple-Choice Test A multiple-choice test is a form

Youth of assessment in which students are asked to select the best possible answer out of the choices from a list. While people often say that you should always stick with your first answer, the better strategy is to go through all of the questions, placing a tic mark beside those questions you would like to review. Return to the question and ask yourself why the answer you marked is correct. Make a change if appropriate. This is a form of self-testing. Here are some other tips for multiple-choice tests: 1. Try to answer the questions without looking at any of the answers. 2. Read all of the choices before marking the correct one. 3. Try to eliminate obviously wrong answers. 4. If more than one of the answers is correct, then consider all of the above as the correct answer.

True/False Tests True/false tests is one where each statement is either a true statement or a false statement. It is very easy to misread true/false statements. If any part of the question is false, the whole statement is false. Conversely, just because part of the statement is true does not mean that the entire statement is true. Avoid waste time looking for a pattern to answers. (Statistically there tend to be more “true” answers than “false” but don’t count on this.)

Short Answer Tests A short answer test tends to test knowledge of facts. Here are some tips for doing well on these tests: • Make sure you answer all parts of the question. (What followed by why or give an example.) • If you aren’t sure of an answer, come back to it. Later information in the test may jog your memory. • Pay attention to grammar, and use short, concise sentences. • If you don’t have time, or don’t remember the answer, write something down, as you may well get partial credit. • Use correct terminology, following the instructor’s example, or the language used in the test.

Essay Tests Essay tests tend to assess understanding of a subject. The answers are usually open-ended and very useful for finding out if the student is able to sort through a large body of information, figure out what is important and explain why. Sometimes these tests elicit anxiety because they depend on good grammar, punctuation and readable, neat handwriting. This requires highlevel executive functioning skills to execute. Here are some tips for essay questions: • Accurately analyze the questions • Outline the points you wish to include in your answer • Note the time allowed to answer.

• Note the “active verbs” of the essay question. They are the clues as to whether the student should define, explain, illustrate, summarize, contrast, apply, prove, justify or evaluate. • Plan the answer with points or ideas to include, arguments to make, items off the subject that should be excluded. • For questions with several parts, make a list of the parts so none are omitted in the answer. • Proofread your answer and correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. • Avoid padding your answer. Test taking does not have to be a stressful, anxiety-ridden experience. With the proper preparation and using the appropriate strategies for the specific type of test, students should be able to enter the test-taking environment with confidence. Linda McFadyen is the reading and curriculum coordinator at New Vistas Center for Education, a private preschool and elementary school located in Chandler serving advanced and gifted students in the East Valley. NVCE is designated a Top 10 School by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and is celebrating its 35th anniversary.

July 19 - August 1, 2014


Free movie, pizza parties and prizes SanTan Sun-area children 3 years and older and their parents are invited to attend one of several free movie and pizza parties offered this summer at Lee’s Martial Arts academy locations Valleywide, including its Chandler location at 610 N. Alma School Rd., Suite 32. The Chandler party will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 22. Free Papa John’s pizza will be provided along with a showing of the hit movie “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of Ooze.” Every child between ages 3 and 15 who attends a free movie and pizza party is eligible to receive a free ticket for a special showing of the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie during its opening weekend Friday, Aug. 8, through Sunday, Aug. 10. To register to attend for free, call or text (602) 290-8098. For more information, call (480) 831-1111 or visit



July 19 - August 1, 2014

Makutu’s Island under new ownership, open for fun BY TRACY HOUSE

Chandler’s iconic one-of-a-kind play place, Makutu’s Island, is under new ownership and recently received a facelift. Owners Kiran Vedantam and Kiran Bapatla, Chandler residents, have invested nearly half a million dollars in new features and upgrades to the 20,000-square-foot facility. Vedantam explains Club Disney in 1999 built Makutu’s Island, which closed in January. Vedantam and his wife Bapatla took ownership of the facility in May and have been working tirelessly to improve features, safety and the overall Makutu’s experience. “The day we got the keys, we started the remodeling,” Vedantam says. The refurbishing includes painting the animals around the magnificent tree that is the focal point of Makutu’s. “Luckily, we were able to get a good artist. He’s a really talented guy,” Vedantam says. One of the new features is Captain Jack’s Bungee. “It’s a bungee for the kids where they’ll get harnessed, and they’ll go up high, like 15 to 25 feet,” Bapatla explains. The bungee experience does have an additional cost to the entry fee. Kids won’t have to wait in line, though; there will be a ticket system so they can enjoy the rest of the facility until their number is called. The makeover includes changing the redemption and gaming center to be more open and spacious for parents

to watch over kids. Classic games like Pac-Man were added for the parents to enjoy while the kids are playing. “It’s not just for kids. For parents, we want to make sure they also have an opportunity to decompress,” Vedantam explains. “We are doing merchandise, a Makutu line of products,” Vedantam says as part of the changes made. “So we have four characters, and we are slowly going to bring in all of them and make sure people are able to buy them.” The items will be available for purchase for party attendees who may be searching for a last-minute gift. “We are offering gifts so people can come to the parties, buy a gift and hand it to the birthday child.” Safety was the most important concern for Vedantam and Bapatla throughout the refurbishing. “We want everything intact, everything safe, everything all set, and when we are ready, we are ready,” Bapatla says about opening Makutu’s. “We require that parents be here with the kids. And when they leave, we’ll have to check their bands and make sure they’re safe.” A new resource Makutu’s is offering are theater shows including dance, Bollywood dancers, musicians and other entertainment. Bapatla says enrichment classes will also be offered to include art and yoga for children during the week, separate from the play area. Party rooms will be used as

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ARE YOU READY?: Makutu’s Island is open with upgrades, a new menu, entertainment and remodeled gaming area, offering fun for the whole family. STSN photo by Tracy House

classrooms to accommodate the extra classes and events. Children will have an opportunity to sample the classes on the weekends as guests at Makutu’s. While the bigger kids have the run of the massive tree with four levels of fun, toddlers 3 and younger have their own

area to play under parent supervision. Extra seating has been added throughout the expansive facility for parents to relax while kids frolic throughout the enormous tree with mazes and slides. The facility offers three different birthday packages in private rooms

Youth with a dedicated host or hostess for the party. Parties can be streamed live for grandparents and family not able to attend. “We thought, ‘Why not do it?’ That way they can watch it from anywhere. They’re also part of the celebration,” says Bapatla. Besides the usual pizza meals, Vedantam says, “We’ll have a lot of diverse foods that parents can add if they choose to,” such as Italian, Indian and Asian selections. Gluten-free vegetarian options are also available. “We’re offering a lot of healthy choices.” Parents will find the new charging stations in the parents lounge convenient with free WiFi and USB outlets. “Some parents stay the whole day,” says Bapatla. The café offers food choices that will include wraps, pizza and other snacks. A lot of care and time has been put into the remodel, and Vedantam says safety was the first priority to reopening Makutu’s Island. The unique play center is the only one of its kind in the nation. He mentions people come from all over the country to visit Makutu’s Island. Vedantam and Bapatla have more ideas to make Makutu’s Island a family destination. “It’s not just limited to 8 to 12 year olds. We’re expanding it to the entire age group, parents, teenagers, little ones,” Bapatla says. “This is where the family can come and hang out,” Vedantam adds. Admission to Makutu’s Island is $10 plus tax per child, for unlimited play in the main area. Socks are required to play. The first adult admission is free with the child, $5 for the second adult. A kids’ club pass is available, good for an unlimited number of times throughout the year. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Corporate, private and schools can also look into booking the facility for an evening or weekend party. For more information about Makutu’s Island, visit Facebook at or www.makutusisland. com or call (480) 344-3742. Makutu’s Island is located it 6919 W. Ray Rd., Chandler. Tracy House is the news editor for the SanTan Sun News. She can be reached at

July 19 - August 1, 2014


CompuGirls and Intel open doors for young women in tech “You can change the world”—it’s a common refrain in graduation speeches. While the message may be inspiring to hopeful young students, its truth may be relative. Lower-income or underserved students often lack the resources they need to have an impact on global issues they care about. CompuGirls, a program run by Arizona State University professor Kimberly Scott, seeks to change that through technology. “It’s the only program of its kind designed to be culturally responsive,” says Krishna Teja Yanamandra, a student recruiter for CompuGirls. “The best way to give value to what you do is to anchor it in reality.” CompuGirls provides technology access for girls ages 13 to 18, while empowering them through social activism and preparing them for careers that may have once seemed out of reach. Students engage with multimedia programs—such as iPhoto, Scratch gaming software, iMovie and virtual-world creation software—to raise awareness of ethical issues and social injustices. “Students often draw inspiration for their work from personal experiences,” according to Yanamandra. Their projects cover a gamut of issues, from gay rights to substance abuse and domestic violence. Yanamandra says he recruits many students from group homes, but that the program serves girls from diverse backgrounds and income levels. In addition to after-school classes and intensive summer programs, students have the opportunity to visit Intel’s Chandler campus each summer for the Day @ Intel STEM Field Trip. On June 27, about

100 girls spent the day touring Intel, investigating the labs, watching robot demonstrations and visiting with tech professionals. But the main purpose of the field trip is to engage students in conversations with women working in an industry that’s only about a quarter to a third female. In a group Q&A session, one student asked the Intel panel if they had encountered obstacles being a woman in the industry. MyLinh Gillen, a segment marketing lead, says that being the only woman in some business environments might be discouraging, but that it makes her feel more confident. “I get to tell a room full of guys what to do– that’s what’s awesome about it,” she says. Another panelist, Linda Qian, says she volunteered because she wished she’d had the same experience in school. She told the students, “Don’t let it hold you back just because you’re a girl.” This year, the field trip expanded to include girls from the general public, who may also benefit from a glimpse into a major tech employer like Intel. “What really sparked for me was the panel and hearing their struggles, but they succeeded in the end, and they found their passion,” says Roseanna Navarro, a 17-year-old student at Basha High School. “That’s something I aspire to find.” Software engineer Eshé Pickett has led an enthusiastic team of Intel volunteers to host the field trip each year since 2008. “It was only because I met real engineers when I was in middle- and high school that I considered it as a career path,” Pickett says. “And we want to do the same for these girls.” Learn more about CompuGirls at www.sst.clas.


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July 19 - August 1, 2014


Santan Junior High student is national judo champion BY ALISON STANTON

At the age of 12, Erin O’Toole has had more success in judo than most people many times her age. Erin, who will be starting seventh grade at Santan Junior High, is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 12-year-old female in her division. In the spring, Erin went undefeated in three bouts and won the gold medal at the National Youth and Scholastic Championships in Dallas. This win, Erin says, earned her a spot on the U.S. National Judo Team, which asked her to represent the country at the World Junior Judo Games in France and Belgium. In late June, Erin competed in two more national tournaments, also in Dallas: the National Judo Junior Olympics and the International Judo Junior Olympics Championships. She went undefeated and won gold in both events, earning her the Triple Crown of Judo. Erin, who has been training in judo for about four years, says her father, Dan, encouraged her to give the martial art a try. She enrolled at Southwest Judo Academy in Mesa, where she trains three nights a week. “My dad had learned martial arts and he wanted me to learn it, too,” she says. Although she definitely enjoys mastering new skills and performing well at tournaments, Erin says she especially likes being around other kids her age who also love judo.

“I have met a lot of good friends at Southwest Judo Academy, and it’s just really fun,” she says. In addition to her judo training, Erin also takes gymnastics at the Arizona Olympian Gymnastics Center. She was also recently selected to be a member of the San Tan Junior High cheerleading squad. “We call her ‘The Shark,’” says Erin’s mom, Lori, laughing. “She has to keep moving, and she just can’t keep still.” Lori credits the staff at Southwest Judo Academy for much of her daughter’s success. “They are just awesome there and are so supportive, and it’s the same thing with the travel teams. We all take care of each other and support each other, and it’s like being part of one big family.” Erin says that her judo training not only helps her do better in gymnastics, but it has also taught her discipline that she applies to her schoolwork. “I know that if I don’t focus and do my homework before going to train, I’ll have to stay up late and do it,” she says. Lori says her daughter’s dedication to school and sports caught the eye of Erin’s sixth grade teacher, who nominated her for the Chandler Unified School District’s Superintendent’s Outstanding Citizenship Award. Erin was presented with the award


CTA-Independence Hawks

NATIONAL CHAMPION: Erin O’Toole, 12, has been training in judo for four years. She is the nation’s No. 1 12-year-old in her division. Submitted photo

during a ceremony held at the Chandler Center for the Arts. George Uema, an instructor at Southwest Judo Academy, has known Erin for about three years. He describes her as a very motivated student who is not only interested in judo, but is also extremely good at it. “We have had the honor and privilege to train Erin here for the past four years,” Uema says, adding that Erin has a high degree of dedication to judo and an “indomitable spirit” for competition. “She is a very talented individual who always does her best possible.”

Save the dates – CTA looks forward to welcoming everyone back on the first day of school at 8:35 a.m. Monday, July 21. Curriculum Night, for parents only, will be held Thursday, July 31. Two informational sessions will be held for first through sixth grades; parents should plan to attend one session at either 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. or 6:15 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. to learn about all the academics to be covered this school year. Allow extra time for parking and traffic; parking at Snedigar is recommended. Calendar July 21: First day of school July 24: Sock Hop; wear funky socks and meet new classmates and families July 31: Curriculum Night for grades 1-6 –Wendi Olson

Alison Stanton is a freelance writer who lives in the East Valley. She can be reached at

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