Tempe principal Julie Schroeder brought an idea to the parents of her nearly 600-student school last spring, asserting that every student could attend college.
The parents, Schroeder said, broke out into applause during the meeting.
Thew Elementary School is in the process of becoming a certified No Excuses University School, adopting a college-readiness attitude that challenges students to take tough courses and attend post-secondary education.
Each teacher chose a university or college as a classroom theme, complete with bulletin boards in the school’s colors and pennants on the walls. They’ve connected with alumni from the schools, inviting them to speak with the students.
When the Oregon Ducks were in town for the BCS National Championship Game earlier this month, cheerleaders and the school mascot visited for a schoolwide rally about attending college.
“The real purpose is getting them ready to attend university,” Schroeder said. “They set learning goals, even down to our youngest students. The kindergartners may choose to learn 25 sight words.”
The No Excuses University School program is administered by Turn Around Schools, based in San Diego. Dan Lopez, president of Turn Around Schools and co-founder with his brother, Damen, said there are 96 certified schools in 15 states in the network. Kyrene de los Ninos in Tempe is the only already certified No Excuses University School in the Valley. Three Tucson schools have also adopted the program.
The idea is catching on. More than 500 educators are signed up for the next training in California, he said.
“The message is finally starting to get out there and we’re starting to make some great strides in meeting the needs of kids across the country,” Dan Lopez said.
Though the founding ideas started with meeting the needs of schools with high at-risk populations, schools adopting the program are “across the board,” he said.
“The work we are doing in schools on changing the culture is universal,” he said. “People are flocking to it. When we originally started, the bulk of our work was with elementary schools. Middle schools are coming in droves now, wanting to be a part of this network.”
Thew students are picking up the ideas quickly. In Marilyn Klassy’s third-grade class, they’ve researched majors needed to achieve career goals.
Pictures of the University of Oregon campus decorate the walls. Students received yellow Oregon T-shirts before the college students visited them earlier this month. They smiled for pictures with Puddles the Duck, Oregon’s mascot.
High above students’ desks hangs a poster that reads, “After high school comes college.”
Many students in Klassy’s class would be the first in their families to attend college, including Evangelic Rosales, 9, and Cyprian Martinez, 9.
Evangelic wants to be a painter and plans to study fine arts at the University of Oregon.
“It’s a good place and I want to see what’s there besides Arizona,” she said. “My brother asks me to draw for him.”
Cyprian has his sights set on a school in California to study marine biology.
“I like to see sharks and stuff and study animals and take pictures of them and hang them up in my room when I’m older,” he said.
Going to college means you have to “study hard, get good grades, don’t get into trouble,” he said.
Evangelic says, “You’ve got to learn new things. You have to read fiction books and nonfiction books. You have to get good information to get into the school,” she said.
When Klassy started talking to her students about college, some said, “I can’t go to college. I’m not smart enough, “ or “I don’t have the money.”
“We talked about this,” she said, telling her students they are “definitely smart enough and definitely if they work hard enough” they can get into college.
By starting college-preparation early, students have a step up, with knowledge that they need to explore financial aid options and guidelines to receive scholarships.
“That’s what it’s about,” she said. “Preparing them to look for ways to make it possible.”
The teachers attended a conference about No Excuses University Schools before they decided to go forward with the plan, said Schroeder, Thew’s principal.
“It’s really about meeting the needs of every single child to make sure that they can attend college if they choose to attend,” she said.
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