HOLBROOK, Ariz. -- A recent study exposed a critical lack of skills and basic equipment and resources necessary for teaching students science and math in 13 rural counties in Arizona. An anonymous donation of $15 million over the next three years across the 13 counties could improve that situation immediately, starting in Navajo and Apache counties.
Science Foundation Arizona, a non-profit organization, has donated $40 million for education in Arizona over the past six years. In the past, most of that money has gone to larger schools. The foundation's study found that rural schools are facing challenges just like larger schools.
The foundation sent the study to every public school and superintendent, principal and teacher in the 13 rural and remote counties. The response from Navajo and Apache counties was a key reason those counties are first in line to receive the money in the fall. Forty-nine out of the 52 schools in Navajo County, or 94 percent, responded.
"These are people who are desperately asking for the resources to do their job," said Margaret Mullen, chief operating officer for the foundation. "They don't have corporations there to support them like they do in Phoenix or Tucson or even Flagstaff, and they're saying, 'we want to do this, give us the skills and equipment and the resources to do this.'"
One challenge teachers will experience in the fall is teaching to the new Common Core standards that begin in the upcoming school year. Starting in the fall, if the principal and the superintendent agree to set aside common planning time every week for the teachers to meet and talk about how to implement the Common Core across different subjects, the foundation will provide gift cards for supplies.
"Our objective is simple, we want to improve academic performance in science and math and we want to upgrade the state school grade.There are a lot of C, D and F schools, there are a couple of B schools, but we're hoping we can move some of those grades up to As and Bs," Mullen said.
In addition, teachers may request as much as $10,000 for equipment to improve science and math teaching and additional money so teachers can improve their skills in science and math. A full-time field staff person will work only in Navajo and Apache counties to assist teachers in developing a curriculum, filling out forms or giving support wherever it is needed.
"We understand how hard change is when you don't have somebody who can come help you," Mullen said. "And so we we're going to try and get the people there to provide the professional development in science and math so the teachers have modern skills and updated technology to improve academic performance in the classroom."
Mullen said that in rural and smaller communities it is difficult to find people who can mentor teachers on modern science and math as they do in larger communities. The foundation wants to engage the local community but also give supplies directly to the teachers. Those supplies can be as simple as a calculator or as extensive as a curriculum in science and math.
"Some of these teachers tell us they need textbooks because their textbooks are eleven years old and don't have all the pages," Mullen said.
"I wish everyone in Arizona would go on our website and read these comments from teachers, it's appalling to me," Mullen added. "Here's one: 'our school only had one computer lab for about 600 students. Classes are scheduled to use the computer lab once every week for 30 minutes.' That means 30 kids on a computer for 30 minutes, that's ridiculous."
Mullen said she recognizes that her organization is taking some short term, stop-gap measures to provide basic resources to the schools and teachers, but she believes it is important to give the teachers some hope that people are listening to teachers' needs.
But Mullen stresses that more help is needed for these schools in the long term. Her foundation is continuing to raise money to help these communities and she said that every person who pays state taxes in Arizona can help.
"If a person pays state taxes in Arizona, they can donate to a school, $200 per individual or $400 per couple and it comes directly off your tax bill, so it costs you nothing to give money to a school," Mullen said. "Fifteen million dollars sounds like a lot over three years but at $5 million a year, if you look at all the counties that is about $500 a teacher. That won't do it."
More information about the study is available at www.sfaz.org/rural.