Innovation in Arizona: How One Region is Taking on Next-Gen Education

Original Article via GettingSmart

Arizona has a lot going for it: a growing tech sector, 300 days of sunshine a year, affordable living and a plethora of quality of life factors, but one item that doesn’t make the typical “pro” list is education.

In the metro Phoenix East Valley, though, we have always taken educating our future generations seriously. We are dedicated to innovation.

Over the past few years, Arizona’s education system has gained a lot of attention in several areas where we should be doing better: per pupil funding, student-to-teacher ratios and teacher salaries. And while these issues are being addressed, we haven’t slowed down in providing our students with ample opportunities from passionate educators–both inside and outside of the classroom.

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The East Valley Partnership, a regional coalition of civic, business, education and political leaders, is a voice for the exceptional Phoenix East Valley community. Here’s how, in our region, we maximize every minute we have with our students amid funding challenges and negative perceptions.

  1. Education Diversity: Students learn differently and excel in different subject areas, and Arizona has created a diverse education landscape to meet those needs. From a high-level, the education options here are innovative and provide choice for students and families, including highly utilized open enrollment, nationally ranked charter schools, and creative programs for our students from international baccalaureate programs, to the first of its kind STEM high school diploma.
  2. Innovative Solutions: In the Queen Creek district, a serious focus has been placed on developing college-ready students. The district installed a rigorous program beginning in kindergarten and exposing students to college options early. The district is focused on consistent partnerships with parents, students and teachers with tutoring implemented as an automatic safety net for students.

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Together, the Phoenix East Valley provides comprehensive education options beyond the traditional classroom setting. Cities in this region have substantial public-private partnership entities that work to connect business, education and student benefits like the City of Chandler’s City Council-led coalition, which includes the chamber of commerce, economic development council, companies including Intel and PayPal, and schools and districts from early education to postsecondary to improve and create new education opportunities.

The Town of Gilbert implemented a similar public-private initiative. An ongoing outcome at Gilbert Public High School is the partnership with Orbital ATK , where students build rockets. Orbital, a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, put students alongside their engineers to build the largest rocket they legally could.

g15_04611-003-eThe City of Tempe has also created civic-public-private partnerships and has launched a partnership with AARP called Experience Corps, putting highly educated and skilled retirees alongside young students as tutors. These tutors also become mentors along the student’s education journey. Experience Corps has been so successful, it is being replicated in other communities.

Our community leaders, businesses and educators are constantly working towards better options for students, regardless of the political or funding climate.

STEM in the Desert: We take STEM seriously here. With technology jobs growing at a faster pace in Phoenix than in the original tech hub of San Francisco according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meeting this demand comes from homegrown tech talent.

One of the brightest stars and biggest supporters of innovative K-12 education opportunities in the Phoenix East Valley is the Tempe, Ariz.-based Arizona State University (ASU). ASU continues to set the bar high, inspiring educators, innovators, entrepreneurs and our younger students. U.S. News and World Report named ASU the No. 1 university for innovation in 2015 and 2016. In addition, ASU is No. 1 in Fulbright Faculty Scholars and No. 5 in Fulbright Student Scholars, has the No. 5 online MBA program nationwide and is ranked in the top 100 universities globally.

The public-private partnerships in Arizona have developed some of the most innovative and inclusive programs to engage and educate the next generation of tech leaders including:

  • Arizona SciTech is a statewide celebration of STEM that includes 1000+ events throughout the state for all ages that resulted from a collaboration between Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Science Center, Arizona Technology Council Foundation, Arizona Board of Regents, University of Arizona and ASU.
  • AZSTEM School of Community Practice is a program aimed at motivating K-12 schools to work together in STEM subjects, and is the result of Arizona SciTech, Intel Corporation and Arizona Science Center.
  • SPARK App League is a combined effort by Google, the Arizona State University Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Town of Gilbert to teach high school and middle school students how to code in only two days, and the students consistently exceed expectations with past projects like tourism and fire department apps that have gone into public use.

Beyond the Headlines: Education funding is consistently one of the top three issues voters are concerned about. Momentum, following the much-needed increase in funding that was approved earlier in 2016, is building and coming from all directions: businesses, civic leaders, voters, elected leaders and everyone else.

Our goals are daunting, but that doesn’t intimidate Arizonans. We want to see our youth succeed and continue to make this a great state in which to live, work, play and raise a family.

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