An Interview with Raena Janes : STEMS of Success Youth Conference

May 29, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Raena, first of all, could you tell us about yourself, your position, and what would you say you do in Arizona?

I am Director of La Paloma Academy’s Central and Lakeside campuses in Tucson Arizona, Heritage Elementary School in Glendale and Williams Arizona, Liberty Traditional Charter School in Phoenix and Douglas Arizona.

I focus my efforts on education with individualized instruction, incorporation of extracurricular activities and emphasis on the importance of family and community values.

I am an active member in several non-profit community organizations like Junior League of Tucson, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, and the Advisory Council for the Arizona Charter School Association. Our schools participate in a host of community service projects, including cleaning up the environment near the school, seasonal charity drives, bringing gifts to the elderly and a program where students write letters to soldiers fighting overseas.

2) Raena, why focus on 8th graders? Is there any specific reason?

Liberty’s school demographic is such that in many families, 8th grade is the end point to a student’s education. To many, they see 8th grade as the “graduation” rather than the “promotional bridge” to high school. Research shows that 35% of Hispanic youth do not finish high school, due to either needing to help out with their families, or seeking employment. At Liberty the emphasis on middle school and especially 8th grade is to see that this is the year that they do not terminate their education, but make strides in preparing for not only their high school and college graduations but also their career paths. Partnerships with organizations such as Fulton College of Engineering and the Society for Hispanic Engineering Society, and under the direction of Mr. Juan Reyes of E=mc2 Engineering Firm of Phoenix, AZ, Liberty middle school students were given four half day Engineering “Puzzles” to solve using their math skills learned in Algebra (Pythagorean Theory) to create bridges, construct city plans with attention to water runoff, defy gravity to build a ramp, not for speed, but for stability for a wheel chair to safely make it down a ramp and even create cardboard box video games. The relationships established between the 8th graders and the engineers allowed them to see college and a career in STEM as a possibility. Each time the Engineers spoke of college, “if” was never used. Instead “when you go to college” was drilled repeatedly into the 8th graders minds. Sometimes it is the job of the school to show students not only opportunities, but also doors to make those dreams come true.

Another reason Liberty has an emphasis on 8th graders is to allow them to see the value of their education and hard work as a tool to be used to carve out their future. Liberty’s middle school math teacher, Ms. Vogt, is secondary certified and therefore able to teach Honors High School Algebra to students who pass the Phoenix Union High School Algebra Qualifying test to 7th graders in April, and those who pass, are enrolled in High School Algebra while 8th graders. This is imperative to enter high school with Algebra already under their belt, allows them to take Geometry as freshmen, Algebra 2 as sophomores, and Trigonometry as juniors and Calculus as seniors allowing them to better prepared to enter college and succeed in STEM careers.

The Phoenix area has many opportunities for STEM, the female 7th and 8th graders look forward to attending the ASU sponsored Girls Have IT Day at Xavier College, and to take opportunities given with STEM outreaches such as the Legacy Initiative’s STEMS OF SUCCESS Youth Conference, COMPUGIRLS and Aviation Career Education Academy.

When you take a group of 8th graders onto the ASU campus for the first time, their senses are overloaded with the atmosphere, the eclectic populations and their dress choices (no school uniforms here!) and the sheer size of ASU makes map reading a survival skill!

3) I personally think the schools (and parents) need to do much more in terms of career/occupational/vocational guidance. What have you been doing in this regard?

At the beginning of the year we make sure that the students understand that school is based on a value system built as concentric circles:

 Value: if you value school, you will commit to it
 Belief: there must be a belief that what you are doing at school (learning) is of value and will benefit you, your family, community, and future
 Behavior: if you value your education and believe education will get you to your dream
 Culture: we will create a culture of students who do not want to step back and just let life happen but instead encourage other students to keep true to the value of education and thus the dreams are encouraged to materialize before they enter high school.

Liberty also utilizes the EXPECT MORE corporations “believe, dream, plan and act” handouts to start mapping out their high school paths to take them to the career and college choices that will open doors for their future success.

Students are urged to have perfect attendance and get on the school honor roll to further buy into the value of education, and a rigorous work ethic that has pay offs. Each term the class that has the highest percentage of perfect attendance gets “kidnapped” on a field trip. Honor 8th Graders can wear up to five medals that make a great clanging applause to their accomplishments as they walk down the aisle. And when the GPA for the Valedictorian and Salutatorian are only a hundredth point apart, you know kids “get it”, and parents “see that their child could go onto college!”

Parents must speak into the dreams of their children. Parents should be the ones who see a plane in the sky and ask their child if they would like to one day be the pilot. Drive by a business and ask what are the skills or sacrifices the owner needed to make to be a success.

4) Tell us about this STEM Conference and Boot Camp.

The LEGACY STEM CONFERENCE was held at the Tempe ASU Memorial Student Union. There were three organizations that were highlighted and also offered unique STEM camp activities.

AVIATION CAREER EDUCATION ACADEMY sponsored by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals and the Archer Ragsdale Arizona Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. COMPUGIRLS CAMP sponsored by the ASU School of Social Transformation, with Sharita Thompson as the speaker. The winners of the 2011 Robotics competition showed their basket ball shooting robot. The students were able to build cardboard box video games, and to construct bridges to hold a certain weight without buckling. Then the highlight of the day was when the males and females were separated into two groups. The males were inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen and members of the Black Aerospace Professions. The females were enthralled and challenged by a panel of ten women who held careers in STEM. In each session, the students were told to dream…what could you become if fear were not an obstacle? And then, what is fear? Why does it create doubt and thus keep you from your dreams and what do you do when an opportunity comes your way?

5) Let’s give some recognition now to these fine young pupils who participated in this event.

Since the emphasis was on females’ opportunities, the Legacy foundation requested we bring sixteen females and four males. The 20 Liberty students, who attended, were known for their character, aptitude for problem solving and their tenacity to the value of education and the creation of a culture of learning.

Although all twenty attendees were given the opportunity to apply to the COMPUGIRL Camp and the AVIATION camp, four took the challenge to step through the fear and doubt and apply. All four were accepted.

May 29th, Ramon Garcia, Jr., Joshua Vera and Toi Hawkins will arrive at the Papago Army National Guard Training Site Command at 0830 hours for a hands-on camp experience to enhance and inspire youth to pursue aviation related or aerospace careers. They will get chances to fly in National Guard flight simulators, and also go up in a two seater plane and actually view life as a Liberty Eagle should!

7th grader, Britney Daye will be attending the 8 week COMPUGIRL Camp at the Downtown ASU campus for 8 weeks and master the MAC by using Garage band, iVideo and iMovies.
Although the Disney Leadership Academy was not represented at the Legacy Initiative, Liberty Student, Marlene Luna was selected as one of the 40 campers from across the North America to attend the ME TO WE leadership camp in Patagonia from July 8-15.

6) What is this “Legacy Initiative” and what is its purpose?

The corporation was created to give students of minority status a chance to experience academic challenges and opportunities through the partnership with STEM professionals in Arizona to inspire and come alongside students to convince them they can take the challenge to work for a goal and remain tenacious to the dream until it becomes a reality. They are door openers and cheerleaders for those who take the opportunities given them.

7) Tell us a bit about Liberty Traditional Charter School in Phoenix.

Liberty is located on 45th Avenue and Indian School where Phoenix and Maryvale intersect. The school is known for its dedicated teachers, who give their all to their students. With a school population of 400 k-8th graders, parents and students are known by name and kept accountable academically and in their character choices. Parents enjoy the personal attention and “family” atmosphere. Many of the kindergarteners are accompanied to school by their middle school siblings or 4th grade cousins. Students are encouraged to excel and if that means that “gaps” need to be filled before success can occur, there are teachers who will give up their lunch hours, get to school early to tutor or stay late to allow for academic interventions.

8) Where can parents and interested others learn more about this program and its focus?

Parents can learn about STEM programs offered at their children’s school and their focus by visiting their student’s school or going online.

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