Skip to main content

A classroom full of future Sun Devils

Phoenix teacher encourages her students to attend college by stoking their fires for ASU

Middle school students singing

November 09, 2015

Arizona State University should consider installing a recruiting office in Shannon Perna’s sixth-grade classroom.

The Paradise Valley Unified School District teacher doesn’t spend much on marketing or advertising, isn’t on a university salary and doesn’t hand out prospectus or materials after each meeting. She is, however, highly effective in preparing her Palomino Intermediate students to become Sun Devils, 35 of them at a time.

Perna’s classroom is a virtual shrine to the maroon and gold, filled with ASU memorabilia — from pom-poms and foam fingers to a stuffed version of Sparky — and trophies of her years spent at the university.

And on the first day of class, the 2008 ASU graduate makes all of her students learn the ASU fight song, going so far as to insert the lyrics into their daily binder. Every day before they’re dismissed from class, Perna’s students sing the fight song at the top of their lungs.

On Fridays, they all get to wear ASU T-shirts, and so does Perna. But hers isn’t a standard ASU T-shirt with a logo. Hers reads: “Life is too short: Don’t spend it being a Wildcats fan.”  

“Am I brainwashing my students?” Perna pondered the question for a moment, then smiled. “Yes, I guess you could say I am.”

In reality, it’s more about changing the students’ perspectives. Perna isn’t just a proud alumna supporting her alma mater; she’s trying to instill in her class — all Title ITitle I provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards. students — a goal of attending college.

“The whole idea is to promote college whenever you can. If they can’t attend a major university, maybe they’ll think about going to a community college or a trade school. I want them to have a goal and shoot high,” Perna said. “Making a connection with ASU makes it a not-so-distant idea for them. It becomes tangible when you can take them to a game, visit the campus and show them college is in their future.”

Students in class

Twelve-year-old Erik Lopez hollers the ASU Fight Song in Shannon Perna's sixth-grade class at Palomino Intermediate School in Phoenix. Top: Tristen Curtis, 11, joins his class in the fight song.

Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Sometimes the Sun Devil Fever runs high in Perna’s class, and it can lead to sticky moments.

“One time I had a substitute come to the class, and she started talking about how she went to the U of A. I pulled her aside and whispered, ‘They won’t listen to you if you talk about that subject because they’ll think you’re just being silly,’ ” Perna said. “Another time the superintendent of our school, who is a U of A grad, was coming for a classroom visit. I had to forewarn our students that this gentleman was my boss’ boss, and they could not be rude to him. It’s all in good fun, but I was sweating it out that day.”

ASU officially “adopted” Perna’s class about five years ago when Perna reached out to the university. Dan Turbyfill, student program manager for the ASU Alumni Association, responded with a classroom visit flanked by a handful of members of the Student Alumni Association and an invitation for students to experience ASU Homecoming, considered the most spirited day of the year.

Earlier this month, on Nov. 6, the tradition was kept alive when Turbyfill and the Student Alumni Association came to Perna’s class to offer encouragement, tips on college life and a trip to Tempe to march in the Homecoming parade, participate in the annual block party and free tickets, complimentary of Sun Devil Athletics, to the ASU vs. Washington football game on Saturday.

School homework projects.

Shannon Perna has the hall outside her classroom decorated in Sun Devil spirit.

“The excitement of this class keeps me coming back,” said Nicole Evans, who is the president of the Student Alumni Association and a construction engineering major who has visited the classroom three years in a row. “I love how their faces light up and how they’re already passionate about going to college. It’s heartwarming, and I love it.”

ASU President Michael Crow might love it, too. If nothing else, he would probably appreciate Joseph Lopez’s viewpoint that “ASU is the best college in the world.” The 12-year-old in Perna’s class is interested in studying physics and wants to play soccer for the university. He’s also realistic about what he’ll face in college, which is why he wants to create a new club when he gets to campus.

“I want to start a sleeping club because I’m going to be tired from all the homework,” Lopez said.

Jordy Trejo, also 12, is passionate about engineering, robotics and especially the ASU fight song, which transforms the usually mild-mannered sixth-grader into a spirit warrior with a glossed-over look in his eye.

“I’ve been told I sing it really well and that I have the spirit in me,” Trejo said.

And for those of you who have the spirit in you, but simply forgot the lyrics of ASU's fight song, "Maroon and Gold," here’s a refresher to get you ready for Homecoming weekend:

Fight, Devils Down The Field

Fight With Your Might and Don't Ever Yield

Long May Our Colors Outshine All Others

Echo From The Buttes, Give 'Em Hell Devils!

Cheer, Cheer For A-S-U

Fight For The Old Maroon

For It's Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here

And It's Onward to Victory!