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At ASU Preparatory Polytechnic STEM Academy, the K-8 charter school on ASU’s Polytechnic campus, their motto is “Work Hard. Be Kind. Be Smart.”
The emphasis on these values and dedication from the entire school community have earned them the 2018 Public Charter School of the Year award presented by the Arizona Charter Schools Association.
“It is a well-deserved tribute to our teachers and students who work hard every day,” said Claudia Mendoza, principal and director of learning at ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy. “It is such an honor to be acknowledged and recognized for the incredible work being done.”
According to the Arizona Charter School Association, the award is presented to “a consistently excelling public charter school that succeeds in educating all children, regardless of background.” The awarded school “maintains a culture of high academic expectations and focuses on continuous improvement by defining measurable goals for all of its students,” operates with “ethical business practices and strong financial stability” and is “a pillar in the community, committed to supporting the needs of its students, staff and families.”
Mendoza said the school works to meet these benchmarks in a variety of ways, including always pushing harder, seeking continuous improvement and looking for ways to keep students excited about what they’re learning.
She feels there is a unique combination of factors that differentiate ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy from other schools.
As part of the ASU community, students consider themselves Sun Devils and adopt a college-going mindset from an early age. They learn the pitchfork hand gesture as a symbol of perseverance and respect for their school.
“When we hold up a pitchfork, it’s a reminder to do things the ASU Prep way. You can ask any of them, and they will tell you they are little Sun Devils preparing to continue through college. I think that is really unique,” Mendoza said.
The school also benefits from partnerships with ASU academic colleges and departments, including Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Barrett, The Honors College, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, School of Sustainability, Polytechnic School's Graphic Information Technology program, ASU’s Marching Band & Color Guard, Changemaker Central and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Another contributing factor is the school’s emphasis on STEM, through which, Mendoza said, they are connecting classrooms to the real world. Relevant and rigorous teaching provides students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in a real-world context.
“Kids often ask ‘When am I going to use this again?’, and we are able to connect their question to a deeper understanding using the STEM process. Through cross-curricular projects, they are finding solutions to real-world problems as part of their everyday curriculum, and they’re enjoying it too!”
Mendoza notes that rigor and high expectations are extended to all students, which helps them achieve at every level.
“I think it’s important to push each student at every level to that rigor. I marvel at what students are able to do when we provide them with personalized support, in addition to showing them that we believe in them.”
She also attributes the school’s success to their school culture, where every teacher and student feels like they’re part of the ASU Prep STEM family. She adds that the overall success of the school is built on a foundation of mutual respect and inclusiveness.
“We have a very welcoming and friendly environment — students and teachers are collaborative, innovative, engaged, confident and reflective,” Mendoza said.
Anita Carrano has three children who attend ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy: a first-grader, a third-grader and a fifth-grader. She said sending them there is the best decision she and her husband could have made.
“All three of our kids have very different personalities, and it’s been really amazing how the teachers have been able to engage them using so many different tactics and educational tools,” Carrano said.
She said they’ve been impressed with the well-rounded education they’re receiving, from the strong, individualized academics and emphasis on STEM, to learning how to be a good person and help others.
“It’s very broad and very inclusive of every student that attends here, so that makes my heart happy,” Carrano said.
ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy will be honored at the Charter Awards luncheon on Dec. 5.