Connecting learning to real world makes Tartesso an A+ School - AZEdNews
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Connecting learning to real world makes Tartesso an A+ School

Tartesso Elementary School's Odyssey Of The Mind Teams

Strong community support and connecting students’ learning to the real world are key to Tartesso Elementary being named an A+ School of Excellence.

While Tartesso integrates technology into classroom learning and provides enrichment opportunities to ensure all students are college and career ready, “building and strengthening relationships have proven our best strategies for success,” said Liz Burton, principal of the Title I school serving more than 540 students in a semi-rural area in Buckeye. It is one of three schools in the Saddle Mountain Unified School District.

Connecting learning to real world makes Tartesso an A+ School Tartesso-Staff-and-students

Tartesso staff and students. Photo courtesy Tartesso Elementary

In the past six years, Tartesso’s after-school activities for students have grown from 11 to more than 30 thanks to the dedication of school staff, parents and community members, said Burton. Activities range from sports to crafting and drama to robotics.

“We view our wealth of enrichment opportunity, and our broad stakeholder dedication to providing it, as the symbiotic relationship that grows both our high achievement and our healthy, interested and interesting young students,” Burton said.

Susan Anderson, a parent whose kindergartner started classes at the Buckeye school, said, “I can’t imagine any better place to build her learning foundation than here at Tartesso.”

Anderson said she has sent her five children to schools in three different states over the past 20 years.

“Tartesso is – hands down – the best elementary school my children have ever attended,” Anderson said. “The relationships being built between teachers and students are ones that will affect my children positively for the rest of their academic careers, and
most likely, the rest of their lives.”

Video by Joel Wisser/Tartesso Elementary School : Welcome to Tartesso Elementary

A+ School of Excellence Award

Tartesso was named an A+ School of Excellence the first time it applied for the award, said Bobbie O’Boyle, executive director of Arizona Educational Foundation. It was among 41 Arizona public schools that earned the award this year.

“They spent time building up the evidence and gathering the data they needed to substantiate what they were writing in their application over an 18- to 24-month period,” O’Boyle said.

Connecting learning to real world makes Tartesso an A+ School Tartesso-Elementary-School-receives-A-Award

Saddle Mountain Superintendent Dr. Paul Tighe, far left, Tartesso Elementary Principal Liz Burto, next left, and school board members receive the A+ School of Excellence Award.

Schools that apply for the award are evaluated in the areas of student focus and support, school culture, active teaching and learning, curriculum, leadership, community and parent involvement and assessment data.

A+ Schools receive with $500, a banner designating them as an A+ School of Excellence™ winner, and partial scholarships for all staff and their family members at Argosy University Phoenix.

“We are an A+ school because of our great teachers and staff, our awesome students, our supportive parents, and our wonderful community,” Burton said at the A+ Award celebration.

During that assembly, fifth graders chanted, “We work hard every day, getting us strong and getting an A, eighth grade through fifth grade we are cool, plus we are an A+ School.”

Connecting learning to real world makes Tartesso an A+ School Fifth-Graders-at-Tartesso-Celebration

Tartesso fifth-graders at the A+ Award assembly.

Tartesso is a Kids at Hope school, which means every adult at the school commits to the belief that every child is capable of success, and that those adults have strong, caring connections to students that provide the support students need to figure out what they need to do to get where they want to go in life.

“It’s a very tight-knit community, and I have a feeling that whole area out there is going to experience a great deal of growth in the next several years,” O’Boyle said. “What are they doing now will position them to accommodate that type of growth.”

Saddle Mountain Unified School District Video: Tartesso Elementary – A+ School of Excellence Celebration

Focus on real-world learning

Tartesso’s 1-to-1 student to computer ratio, weekly coding classes for fourth- and fifth graders and twice-a-week technology classes for fifth-through eighth graders mean that “students are becoming more and more familiar with technology, and we are confident that they are acquiring the skills necessary to be prepared and compete in the 21st century,” Burton said.

Two after-school activities – Odyssey of the Mind and VEX Robotics – have led to Tartesso students earning state and national recognition for solving real-world problems.

Tartesso’s three Odyssey of the Mind student teams work collaboratively and problem-solve creatively in local, state and world competitions and have placed in the regional competition in
each of the last five years, Burton said.

Connecting learning to real world makes Tartesso an A+ School Tartesso-enrichment-classes

Tartesso students take part in enrichment classes. Photo courtesy Tartesso Elementary School

In May 2018, two Tartesso teams went to the World Finals thanks to financial support from coaches, parents, community members, and business partners, where Tammy Doerksen’s team placed 19th out of 64 teams and Nikki Hill’s team ranked 37th out of 76 teams, Burton said.

Each year, Tartesso’s VEX Robotics teams undertake a new challenge where students work in small teams to design, create, build, program, test and compete against other schools.

Students become VEX team members by completing two pre-requisite robotics courses after school. Starting in third grade, students who are interested in robotics can take an introductory class where they learn vocabulary and engineering design basics. In the advanced class, students build upon their knowledge by learning the C programming language.


Connecting learning to real world makes Tartesso an A+ School Tartesso-Students-performance-2

Tartesso staff and students take part in a performance. Photo courtesy Tartesso Elementary

“Last year, one of Tartesso’s two VEX Robotics teams excelled during the robotic season, earning an invitation to the Arizona Middle School VEX State Finals. They were crowned Arizona State Champions,” Burton said. “With that victory came an invitation to the World Finals held in Louisville, Kentucky.”

For the past two years, Tartesso has used Title I funding to partner with the Arizona Science Center to provide opportunities for students of all ages, and an APS grant supports Early Childhood Hands On Science, Engineering is Elementary, Engineering is Everywhere, as well as school-wide assemblies and professional development, Burton said.

Recently, district and school administrators decided to combine Title I funds to hire instructional coach Patti Thompson, who observes teaching methods regularly, offers valuable input, provides professional development during staff meetings and has developed nurturing relationships with teachers, Burton said.

Overcoming challenges

In 2012, Saddle Mountain Unified School District’s override ended, which meant that $300,000 had to be cut from the budget. That led to the district moving to a four-day school week to save on transportation and utilities costs.

Connecting learning to real world makes Tartesso an A+ School Tartesso-Assembly

Staff and students at an assembly. Photo courtesy Tartesso Elementary

“We’ve grown into this schedule over the last three years, which has come with its rewards and obstacles,” Burton said. “The same content is taught in four days instead of five, leaving, at times, fewer hours for professional development.”

But teachers and staff focus on students’ well-being and learning, and let other issues take a back seat, Burton said.

Another challenge has been keeping up with the growth in enrollment from a housing boom near the school.

Teachers have welcomed new students into their classrooms on a weekly and daily basis and have worked hard to maintain high levels of student achievement, Burton said.

Saddle Mountain Superintendent Dr. Paul Tighe had been communicating with developers about the pace of growth, and the district hired a demographer to help ensure that services and instruction are aligned to support students’ needs, Burton said.

The district approved nine new teaching positions for this school year to accommodate enrollment growth, after receiving 100 new students in the 2017-18 school year.

“We anticipate continued growth in the future,” Burton said. “We are prepared for the challenge.”