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Santa Cruz Elementary School

Santa Cruz opened two rooms for senior activities, and city staff gave senior representatives a tour. Photo by Joan Koczor

Maricopa senior groups are settling into their new home at a local elementary school this summer after being displaced by the construction of the State Route 347 overpass.

The groups, formerly located at the Copa Center, had been searching fervently over the past several months to find an alternative home. Cooperation with officials at the city and Maricopa Unified School District landed them at Santa Cruz Elementary.

Joan Koczor of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee called the rooms “amazing,” noting they were clean and freshly painted. “Much more than I expected. And several steps up from when we had originally seen them.”

She is also on the advisory board for Maricopa Seniors Inc., one of the organizations at whom the project was targeted.

City Community Services Director Kristie Riester worked closely with the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee and several of the groups affected by the transition. So far, she said, the transition is going well.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Riester said. “They have two beautiful classrooms with tables and chairs and cabinets that are open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.”

To make things work at Santa Cruz, the city and school district worked together to construct a chain-link fence to separate the seniors from the students.

The cost of the fence was absorbed in large part from a $4,000 donation made to city Senior Services by Student Choice High School, an area charter school which operates out of Copper Sky.

This fence allows senior groups to maintain their own separate entrance to their area of the building without causing security concerns for the school. Without it, the seniors would have been denied access to the two classrooms, thus forcing them to rely on an a much more limited space at Copper Sky.

Locked interior doors serve the same purpose inside the building.

Senior groups, organized or otherwise, had used the Copa Center for their events, such as card games, crafts and volunteer efforts, for the past few years. But the Copa Center will be one of the casualties of the pending overpass construction.

This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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Pictured from left: Mason White (head robotics engineer) Xeria Cabral (STEM mentor) Adisyn White, Jesse Garcia, Jevon Porter, Makayla Porter, Alec Yarborough, Preston Christianson, Elijah Bell, Gio Hernandez. Not pictured: Jennifer Trevizo, Jeremiah Gilmore, Roman Deliz

The Rex Robotics Team from Santa Cruz Elementary School went to the Salt River VexIQ Tournament on Saturday.

Twenty-four teams competed in the robotics tournament. At this competition, the Santa Cruz team won the Elementary Excellence Award – the highest award given in the elementary category. The award is given to the team that shows determination, passion and sportsmanship, along with robotics skills aligned with a STEM research project.

The team started their work in November and this was their second competition. At the first competition in Pinetop, they also won the Elementary Excellence Award. These awards have qualified them to attend the VexIQ Arizona State Championships Feb. 18 in Glendale.

Alex Rayas teaches math and science at Santa Cruz Elementary School. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

By Raquel Hendrickson

Alex Rayas remembers getting to do science experiments for the first time in fifth grade.

“It was both exciting and challenging at the same time,” she said.

Now she teaches science and math to fifth graders at Santa Cruz Elementary, where she gets to share her favorite subject from her own elementary days. For the record, she liked PE a lot, too, “because it taught me how to be a team player.”

As a college student, she was a paraprofessional at an elementary school and knew she had found her calling.

“I realized that I loved working with students,” she said. “I felt I could make a difference in fostering their creativity and providing students with the skills they would need to reach their highest potential.”

She considers the highlight of her 11-year career to be hosting a summer science camp for students in third through fifth grade. It was an opportunity to expose children to the fun of science and see their enthusiasm for science experiments and projects.

Motivating students to that kind of excitement is exactly what she loves about teaching.

“My students have taught me that they love to share their ideas and strategies with fellow classmates,” she said. “We have many leaders in our classrooms; it’s about giving students the opportunity to lead.”

Rayas and her family moved to Maricopa from Texas in 2012. She quickly saw teachers in the Maricopa Unified School District rising to the challenges they faced.

“I like that our schools are filled with teachers who are very passionate about their profession. These teachers go above and beyond what it takes to make the classrooms and schools work,” she said. “ As we are limited in resources, our teachers work together to help each other whether we are at the same school site or from another school site.  We are working and collaborating together to make a difference for our students.”

Still, Rayas would like to see more academic resources for elementary grades. Carrying her fondness for PE, she said a variety of after-school sports for fourth-sixth grade would also be a plus.

Alex Rayas
Fifth grade math and science teacher, Santa Cruz Elementary

Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education
Family: Husband, 11-year-old daughter
Teaching positions you’ve held: First grade through sixth grade
Years in Education: 11 years
First job out of college: Second grade teacher in Cartwright School District

Hobbies: Running, hiking and gardening
First year with current school: 2012
What advice do you give parents of elementary schoolchildren? Read. Read to your child. Read with your child.
What was the best advice you received about your own education? Being a teacher means that you should get to know your students. It’s important for them to know you care.
What have your students taught you? My students have taught me that they love to share their ideas and strategies with fellow classmates.  We have many leaders in our classrooms; it’s about giving students the opportunity to lead.