ASU’s affiliated elementary schools adding more students, classes

(2.19) Poly Elemntary School
YOUNG SUN DEVILS: Elementary school students wait to be picked up outside Polytechnic Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Jessica Weisel)
Published On:
Friday, February 19, 2010
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This fall, nearly 1,000 kindergarten through ninth-grade students will be part of ASU’s extended family when University Public Schools adds five classes to the two elementary schools affiliated with ASU.

Polytechnic Elementary School, located just north of ASU’s Polytechnic campus, will add four classes, including its first eighth-grade class, to kick off its third year of operation.

University Public School Phoenix, which opened in fall 2009 and is located east of the Downtown campus, will also add its first ninth-grade class this fall.

Both schools are part of ASU President Michael Crow’s vision to create higher education institutions committed to excellence, access and impact, said Sue Henderson, director of student services for University Public Schools.

“Part of developing the New American University is to create social embeddedness and responsibility in the community,” she said. “One of the ways [Crow] is looking to do that is to create K-12 schools affiliated with each of ASU’s four campuses.”

Positioning these schools close to ASU has two-fold benefits — providing a great education to the students and allowing ASU professors to research educational methods — establishing the University as an educational and community leader, Henderson said.

Polytechnic Elementary School principal Donna Bullock said she hopes close proximity to a university at such a young age will also encourage more students to attend college, whether it is ASU or elsewhere.

“Our hope and goal is that college won’t be thought of as optional — it’s where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do there that is the option,” Bullock said. “We want to create that excitement early, early on.”

The unique curriculum and class structure is also designed to prepare students for higher education, she said.

With the exception of kindergarten, all classrooms are multi-age, combining students from two grades in one class with the same teacher for two years.

Bullock said this creates a stronger bond between the students and teachers and allows students that work above or below their grade levels to get the special attention they need without placing them in separate classrooms.

Additionally, the curriculum is designed to be challenging and hands-on with a focus on group work and critical thinking, said applied math and sciences professor Matthew Isom, who helped design the curriculum, already in use at the elementary schools.

“We were leery at the start, but they are happy with [the curriculum] and I’m happy with [its success,]” Isom said. “I’ve seen their test scores on AIMS and other standardized tests and they’re awesome. I hope they keep it up.”

Physics professor David Meltzer works with the fifth, sixth and seventh graders on science projects once a week and said the children are able to solve problems on their own.

“I have them do actual little experiments and they seem to be comfortable with it,” Meltzer said. “The kids are really encouraged to actively work together on projects with me, and they always seem to be very prepared and do a very good job.”

Some of this may stem from the students’ experience with large-scale group projects.

Each class participates in a group project every quarter that the students design themselves. The idea is to integrate what they are learning in every subject area, Bullock said.

For example, one of the fifth- and sixth-grade classes studied the Renaissance period last year and compiled numerous projects as a result. They put on a play, built miniature machines from the time period, recorded podcasts and learned to play a few songs on the guitar, Bullock said.

Meltzer said the students display a passion for learning that is unique.

“They all seem very engaged, and I get the sense it’s because of the way [the classes] are set up,” he said. “They don’t expect to just sit there and have someone talk at them and learn that way. They want to get involved.”

Reach the reporter at keshoult@ase.edu