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VVHS students redefine football for women
Football players Sara Lowry, Mackenzie Goodrich, and Vanezza Valdez
It was a warm, late August evening in Surprise and the first game of the season for the Valley Vista Monsoon.  They were battling the Warriors from Westwood in the first game of the 2019 season. The Monsoon started out fast with a 24-6 lead at halftime.  They didn’t let up in the 3rd quarter, adding two touchdowns and safety to stretch their lead to 40-12. With under a minute left in the 3rd quarter, the Monsoon tacked on another rushing touchdown.  With a commanding 46-12 lead, the second string kicker was put into the game to attempt the extra point. That might not seem like much of an occasion on any other night, but for this game it was groundbreaking.  The kicker’s name was Sara Lowry. She jogged onto the field sporting the number 99 jersey her older brother wore when he was on the team.    

“When Coach Sekoch put me in, I was really excited,” Sara said.  “I didn’t feel like I was going to miss. It was nice and high, a little to the right.  Everyone went crazy.”

With that extra point kick, soccer star Sara Lowry became the first girl in Valley Vista Monsoon history to score a point on the varsity football team. 

“It’s pretty cool,” she said with a slight grin on her face.  “I feel accomplished doing it, but I didn’t do anything impossible.  It’s cool to be the first though.”

The story of how Sara made the varsity football team is one that is all too common in high school.  Head Varsity Coach Joshua Sekoch went to the soccer coach looking for a kicker. That position is hard to fill at the high school level.  The Monsoon’s previous kicker graduated, and they needed someone with a good leg.  

“Like two weeks later the soccer coach sent me a video of Sara kicking,” said Sekoch.  “She was kicking 30 yard field goals. He asked if that was ok, and I said absolutely, the best kicker will make the team.”
Kicker Sarah Lowry kicks an extra point in practice.
“I never thought I would play football,” Sara exclaimed.  “Like if you asked me, even a few months before it all happened, I would have said no way!"

After settling in and realizing that she could kick a football, Sara tried out and made the team.  That isn’t uncommon anymore though. She might be the first to score a point for the Monsoon, but she isn’t the first girl to score a point in the district.  As far as an analysis of records can show, that honor goes to Desiree Justus, another soccer player who participated as a kicker from 2011-2013 at Willow Canyon High School.  Desiree once kicked seven extra points in one game, and has 37 points through extra points throughout her career. 

Sara isn’t even the only girl on the Monsoon team this year.  In fact there are three girls. Vanezza Valdez is a kickoff specialist and Mackenzie Goodrich isa wide receiver.  All three girls also play soccer.

“A lot of people say I have a good foot because of soccer,” said Valdez.  “They said I should be a football kicker. And I was like, sure!”  

“We always dress multi-sport athletes,” said Head Coach Joshua Sekoch.  “We just never thought we’d have girls from the soccer team on the football team.”

All three girls are seniors, but it’s Mackenzie who has been playing since she was a freshman.  

“I started playing my 7th and 8th grade year in flag football,” she said.  “And when it came to high school my dad told me, no. So I kind of took it on as a challenge, like, yes I can.”    

Mackenzie came into the high school spring weightlifting session as an 8th grader.  The coaches knew immediately that she was serious about it. She showed up all summer and went through everything in preseason just like all the other freshman did.  

“I remember the freshman coach telling me, she’s going to make it,” said Sekoch.  “She’s going to be out there and doesn’t want to be treated any different. Mackenzie didn’t back down, she’s never quit.  She doesn’t hesitate at all. She’s earned her spot on the team.”

Mackenzie began by playing defensive line.  During a big game against Willow Canyon High School that year, she started the game and forced two back-to-back fumble recoveries.  She converted to a wide receiver this year and caught a first down pass. While each of the girls are second or third string players, Sekoch takes offense with anyone who says they didn’t earn their spots on the team.

“They are three really good athletes,” said Sekoch.  “They’re not just here to be on the team. They are some of the top soccer girls in our school.  It’s different than someone just wanting to be part of it. They can do everything. They aren’t out of place.  The coaches say it all the time, those girls are athletic.” 
    
That mentality has permeated down to the male players, who all three girls say don’t treat them any different because of their gender.
  
“It’s not weird,” said Sara.  “It’s not like the boys treat us any different.  We’re the dudes now.”  

“When the guys see them come out and work and grind every day just like they do and commit to being here, then you’re accepted,” said Sekoch.
Despite wanting to be treated and looked at the same as the boys, all three girls realize that they’re a role model to younger girls, who even come up asking to take pictures with them.

“I’ve been told no for the last 6 years, and here I am,” said Mackenzie.

Lowry agrees.  

“I don’t think anyone should let their gender hold them back from doing what they want to do,” said Sara.  “It doesn’t really matter what other people are going to tell you, you know what you can do, so just do it.”  
Posted : 11/15 | Direct Link
Kingswood earns 2019 PBISaz Achievement Award
Kingswood earns 2019 PBISaz Achievement AwardKingswood Elementary School has been awarded a Merit Achievement Award by the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports of Arizona (PBISaz). The PBISaz Achievement Award recognizes schools for successful implementation and outcomes with School-Wide Systems of Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS). Award criteria required high scores on national fidelity and integrity assessments, and measurable student outcome data. 

PBIS is a whole school three-tier approach to decreasing disruptive behaviors and increasing student success. This approach focuses on proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors through school-wide, classroom, and individual systems of support, in an effort to create a more positive school environment. 

Kingswood has been on the PBIS journey for the past four years, seeking to create a culture that is positive and focused on improvement and accountability for all students and staff. With the implementation of school-wide expectations, “The Knight’s Code”, the school seeks to accomplish this by encouraging students to be respectful, responsible, safe, and a learner. Through the PBIS journey, Kingswood continues to strive for a more positive, proactive, and supportive school culture for all students, so that they can be successful citizens and leaders of our nation. 

Kingswood Principal Mr. St. Germain, and Assistant Principal Ms. Romero, were joined by Dysart Superintendent Dr. Kellis to receive the award at the PBISaz Award Breakfast on November 7, 2019 in Phoenix. 

PBISaz is the official statewide PBIS organization of Arizona, and is an affiliate of the National PBIS center. PBIS is dedicated to improving the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of schools, while also improving social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups.
Posted : 11/12 | Direct Link
Mountain View teacher honored with distinguished award
Mountain View teacher honored with distinguished awardChristina Brown, first grade teacher at Mountain View School, was recently selected as a recipient of the Spirit of Education Award by the National Safe Schools Convening. The Spirit of Education award recognizes and celebrates educators for their contributions in developing a positive learning culture for their students and colleagues. Ms. Brown received her award at the Phoenix School Climate and Culture Symposium held on Monday, October 28th, 2019. 

The National Safe Schools Convening is comprised of a diverse range of educational organizations and leaders, that seek to discuss research-based practices for improving school culture and climate. The Phoenix School Climate and Culture Symposium is an annual conference hosted by the National Safe Schools Convening, and is designed to help educators improve school climate and culture through professional development, skill building, and application of best practices and research. Through this conference, local educators are able to engage with leading experts, and gain knowledge on how a positive school climate and culture is key to student, school, and district improvements. 
 
Ms. Brown was nominated by fellow colleagues, and was selected as a recipient of the award for her positive interactions with students and her efforts to create the next generation of leaders, friends, and problem-solvers. Ms. Brown, along with fellow Mountain View staff, were present at the symposium where she was also asked to share her inspiring story, and strategies to support a positive classroom and school culture.
Posted : 11/1 | Direct Link
SRHS Architecture receives Diamondbacks grant
SRHS receives Diamondbacks grantThe Shadow Ridge High School Architecture Program was awarded a $2,500 STEM grant by the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation School Challenge program, funded by Chase Bank.  The charitable grants have helped schools from across the state with innovative programs such as vocational activities for special education students, digital sculpting for animation art classes, community gardens, after school fitness classes, and much more. Through the School Challenge program, the D-backs have provided more than 200 schools with grants for an overall monetary commitment of more than $950,000 since the program launched in 2012.

The grant will be used to purchase TrackerPro software including head movement tracking cameras and headsets that will allow all students, including those with special needs, the ability to design and draw architectural floor plans, foundation plans, exterior elevations, and related drawings with movements of their head and eyes. These special tracking cameras utilize a small metallic dot attached to glasses, a hat, or a person's forehead to move the cursor on the computer monitor to access drawings commands. This technology will now afford students with physical challenges to pursue a career in architectural design drafting.

The Architecture Program at Shadow Ridge High School includes the Drafting and Design Technologies classes, which are designed to prepare students to apply technical skills via computer assisted design and drafting to create two-dimensional and three-dimensional engineering designs. This program is one of the many Career and Technical Education (CTE) opportunities which allows students to achieve academic excellence through authentic, hands-on, career focused learning.
Posted : 10/24 | Direct Link
Students recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Program
National Merit SemifinalistThe Dysart Unified School District is proud to recognize three extraordinary students for the 64th National Merit Scholarship Program.  The National Merit Scholarship Program honors individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies.  

Kristy Salazar, a senior at Shadow Ridge High School, was named one of approximately 16,000 Semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. The nationwide pool of Semifinalists, representing less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state on the 2018 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).  These academically talented high school seniors have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,500 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $32 million that will be offered next spring. To be considered for a Merit Scholarship award, Semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the Finalist level of the competition. From the approximately 16,000 Semifinalists, about 15,000 are expected to advance to the Finalist level, and in February they will be notified of this designation.

Kristy is undecided in her college plans but is considering Arizona State University, Columbia University, or the University of Notre Dame.  She has a strong interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and is considering a major in Aerospace or Environmental Science.   

Aidan Johansson, a senior at Shadow Ridge High School and Brian Lunn a senior at Valley Vista High School, were both named Commended Scholars. Commended students represent more than two-thirds of the approximately 50,000 high scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT and receive Letters of Commendation in recognition of their outstanding academic promise. Commended Students are named on the basis of a nationally applied Selection Index score and some of these students do become candidates for Special Scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses. National Merit Commended Student

Aidan is applying to several schools including Princeton, Harvard and the Michigan Institute of Technology.  He has a strong interest in Science pathways. 

Brian Lunn applied to West Point and received a Letter of Assurance this fall for a recommendation and cadetship from the United States Military Academy.

The mission of National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is to recognize and honor the academically talented students of the United States. NMSC accomplishes its mission by conducting nationwide academic scholarship programs. The enduring goals of NMSC's scholarship programs are:
  • To promote a wider and deeper respect for learning in general and for exceptionally talented individuals in particular
  • To shine a spotlight on brilliant students and encourage the pursuit of academic excellence at all levels of education
  • To stimulate increased support from individuals and organizations that wish to sponsor scholarships for outstanding scholastic talent.

National Merit Commended student
Posted : 10/8 | Direct Link
Willow Canyon students attend leadership training
WCHS students attend leadership training in DCSix students from Willow Canyon High School traveled to Washington, D.C. for the SkillsUSA Washington Leadership Training Institute.  The Wildcats joined more than 500 students to learn about leadership and talk to Congress about the benefits of Career and Technical Education (CTE) and show how the SkillsUSA journeys have prepared them to be college- and career-ready.

Arianna Peterson, Malachi Delgado, Brandon Smithey, Ekemini MbekAnako, Jaxon Magee and Zydes Diggs were chosen to attend the event as part of the Willow Canyon High School SkillsUSA Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO). Students spent the beginning part of the week preparing for their congressional visit, learning leadership skills, and visiting museums. 

The four-day conference, held annually by SkillsUSA, provides students an opportunity to grow in their professionalism, communication, and leadership skills, which they applied during their legislative visits. The group spoke with Representative Paul Gosar and shared how their CTE Programs transformed their high school experience. Rep. Gosar was very generous with his time and encouraged the students to get involved in local politics and find answers to national issues. 

As part of the event, students were given the opportunity to earn their National Statesman Award. The Statesman is a SkillsUSA honor given to students who demonstrate SkillsUSA knowledge and civic awareness, along with an understanding of the SkillsUSA framework and how to articulate their personal experiences in CTE. All six Willow students competed and earned this recognition. 

“Students were thankful for the amazing opportunity to develop their communication and leadership skills while helping to encourage funding for their programs, Alyson Titkemeyer, Willow Canyon teacher and CTE advisor. 

Willow Canyon High School currently offers CTE Television Production, CTE Graphic Design and CTE Coding classes. Students can also get involved with SkillsUSA, a CTSO that helps develop students leadership and career and technical experience.
 
Posted : 10/2 | Direct Link
Dysart teacher and volunteer named Hometown Hero
Dysart teacher and volunteer named Hometown HeroThe Surprise Independent, in partnership with Fellowship Square Surprise, recently hosted the Hometown Heroes awards ceremony, to recognize residents for their achievements and important contributions to the Surprise Community. The Dysart Unified School District is honored to have two nominees recognized as Hometown Heroes within the community. 

Heather Casey, a teacher at Willow Canyon High School, was selected as a Hometown Hero of Surprise in the Educator category. Ms. Casey was nominated by Willow Canyon staff for her leadership, advocacy, and commitment to students. Ms. Casey has been with the district for fifteen years as a visual arts teacher at Willow Canyon, and has been an exceptional leader and mentor to her students over the years. Several of her students have taken home recognition at local art shows, and have even contributed to city art murals and contests within the Surprise community. In addition, Ms. Casey assists in curriculum writing and revision, serves as a mentor to new teachers, and serves as the district High School Visual Arts lead. In addition to her leadership on campus, Ms. Casey donates to local animal shelters and dog rescues, and is an advocate for Ovarian and Breast Cancer research, volunteering her time to support those affected and help raise funds for research. 

Sharon Beard, a dedicated district volunteer, was nominated and selected as a Hometown Hero of Surprise in the Volunteer category. Mrs. Beard was nominated by Asante Preparatory Academy teacher, Rachel Kelley, where she currently donates her time assisting students. Mrs. Beard first began volunteering in the district with students at Thompson Ranch Elementary School, Surprise Elementary School, and Ashton Ranch Elementary School. In addition to volunteering her time in the classroom, Mrs. Beard serves as an educational surrogate for the Dysart district representing children in foster care and group homes. Prior to volunteering with the district, she enjoyed volunteering with students at the Desert Botanical Garden, and the Del Webb Hospital daycare for hospital employees. “Working with children is my joy and I am sure it keeps me young at heart!” says Mrs. Beard. 

Ms. Casey and Mrs. Beard, along with family, and friends, were invited to attend the Hometown Heroes Luncheon Celebration, on Wednesday, September 25th. The event was held at Fellowship Square, Surprise, and featured an awards ceremony where each recipient was honored for their achievements. 

The Dysart Unified School District is appreciative of the leadership and commitment both Ms. Casey, and Mrs. Beard have shown towards our students, and are honored to have them as a part of our extraordinary team.
Posted : 9/26 | Direct Link
El Mirage kicks wellness into high gear with Phoenix Rising
Phoenix Rising Visit at El MirageEl Mirage Elementary School hosted athletes from Phoenix Rising soccer for an assembly to kick off their Health and Wellness signature program.

The Tigers welcomed the Phoenix Rising with a roaring clap-out through the halls of the school led by student ambassadors and the El Mirage mascot. Players, Joey Calistri and Ben Spencer and business representative, Kendall Barnes spoke to students about what it takes to be successful in professional sports, setting career goals, and the importance of having a growth mindset.  The athletes participated in a scrimmage game against boys and girls middle school players and demonstrated techniques during a penalty kick contest with students and staff. Students displayed their athletic talents and Principal, Stephanie Scott made an impressive goal.  

This presentation is the first of many opportunities provided through the Health and Wellness signature program. Through health and wellness experiences, college preparation, and physical fitness, students will achieve their full potential and learn life-long skills for success.  The purpose is to teach students about healthy habits, and to help them become well-rounded individuals, with healthy minds and bodies. Students are encouraged to increase physical activity by getting outside and playing, to eat healthy, be confident in their abilities, and not be afraid to fail and try again.

Photo Gallery
Posted : 9/20 | Direct Link
West Point supports troops with  “Packages From Home” 
West Point supports troops with  “Packages From Home” West Point Elementary School, in partnership with Student Council, collected over 700 items for the Packages From Home organization which provides care and comfort packages to deployed American military personnel who are stationed on active duty around the world. 

This annual effort began in 2010 with former West Point student, Jade Simpson. Jade’s birthday falls on September 11th, so she started this effort at her school as a way to give back and to commemorate the tragedy that occurred. 

With Jade now in high school, the students and staff at West Point work hard each year to continue this effort of giving back to the troops. This year, teachers, staff, and several former students, held a “packing party” on the Saturday prior to September 11th, to sort and pack the items donated. Together, the group created 55 care packages to be sent to service members around the world. Students and staff also wrote letters and drew photos to be included in the care packages.
Posted : 9/17 | Direct Link
VVHS dance teacher selected for national assessment 
VVHS dance teacher selected for national assessment Valley Vista High School dance teacher, Amy Crow has recently been selected by the Arizona Department of Education to participate in the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards Model Cornerstone Assessment. The state of Arizona is one of only three states selected to participate in this program. 

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) is a national coalition seeking to develop new model cornerstone assessments in music, theatre, dance, and visual arts. Ms. Crow will have the opportunity to work on and cultivate new arts standards for high school dance education, and contribute to the growth of arts education in the United States. In addition to developing a new model cornerstone assessment, Ms. Crow will be required to meet regularly with a cohort specific to dance education, and will be responsible for leading students in the assessment, as well as reflecting and reporting on the outcomes and student progress. 

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards is a partnership of organizations and states leading the development of new core arts standards in the United States. The standards developed demonstrate what students should know and be able to do as a result of a quality curricular arts education program. 

Photo Gallery
Posted : 9/12 | Direct Link
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