ASU charter school an alternative for downtown Phoenix kids

[Source: Emily Gersema,]

Photo Credit: Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic

When searching for schools for their two children, Daniel Lord of Phoenix says he and his wife, Seema, looked to downtown Phoenix.

He says they needed the convenient location – one near their offices and downtown home – but wanted to see how their children would do in a new learning environment.

They chose University Public School Phoenix, which has about 450 students.

“We thought the connection with ASU and their way of teaching really aligned with what our needs were,” said Lord, whose children Sakina, 7, and Drohan, 5, are enrolled at the school at Fillmore and Seventh streets.

The school is part of the Phoenix Elementary School District but is an Arizona State University charter. The designation ensures the school still receives public funding but also gives ASU more freedom to apply new research in education to the classroom, school officials say.

“Our affiliation with ASU came about because of (ASU) President Michael Crow’s interest in the university having tangible involvement and results in K-12 education,” said Barnaby Wasson, the school’s technology director. “But we follow the same guidelines” as other Arizona schools.

University Public School Phoenix is the second charter that ASU has opened in recent years. The first was established near ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa.

The downtown school has become a destination campus that is competitive for enrollment. ASU employees, as well as downtown office workers, are among the 19 families on the waiting list for their children to register.

“We represent a cross-section of the downtown community, people who reside and work here,” Wasson said.

Principal Celeste Enochs said the school educates children in kindergarten to eighth grades but will add Grades 9-12 over the next few years, so children can spend their entire elementary and secondary career at one campus.

Kindergarten students are taught separately to ensure they have the social skills, as well as the basic counting and beginning writing skills to move up to first grade.

From then on, students are taught in clusters. First-graders are in the same room as second-graders, third-graders are with fourth-graders, fifth- and sixth-graders share a classroom, and seventh- and eighth-graders are together.

This means students have the same teacher for two years in a row, so that teachers become familiar with their abilities and needs.

In addition, every child has a plan tailored to their needs and academic goals. It outlines the skills that children need to develop, as well as their strengths to help them to continue to excel.

Children learn to work on projects and problem-solving together. Wasson said they become so accustomed to working in teams that they are surprised when they must work individually to complete Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test.

And though several Valley districts require physical education a few times a week, the ASU school requires daily physical education for all grades.

Since it is run by a university, school officials are focused on preparing children for college. This means they want more parental involvement.

Recently, the school started to offer the American Dream Academy. The 10-week program encourages parents to become more involved in their children’s education.

Enochs said such programs encourage students to think about college even when they are as young as kindergarteners and encourages their parents to support them.

Parents learn ways to support their children and help them with schoolwork, motivate their children to learn and become familiar with the state standards for reading, writing and math.

Parents who finish the course receive a certificate and “their child is guaranteed a place at Arizona State University” for college, Enochs said.

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