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Partnership with Phoenix Suns targets high school graduation rates

January 23, 2013

Maroon and gold doesn’t typically blend well with purple and orange. But when that color scheme brings together ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and the Phoenix Suns to boost graduation rates at Central High School in Phoenix, it’s a sight to behold.

The collaborative effort, dubbed “SunsCentral, the Hottest Place to Graduate,” kicks off this month in partnership with Teachers College, which will provide talented, enthusiastic student interns and student teachers at Central High School.

In an effort to recruit outstanding student teachers to the school, where 90 percent of the student population participates in the free and reduced lunch program, the Suns Charities will provide scholarships of up to $2,000 to 20 Teachers College student interns and 30 student teachers, starting this semester.

“Partnerships of this nature can transform educational outcomes for high school students,” said Mari Koerner, dean of Teachers College. “We are excited to be part of this important project.”

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver launched SunsCentral after hearing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan speak about the issue of students not completing school.

“Secretary Duncan said that more than 60 percent of the nation’s high school dropouts come from just a small percentage of schools in the United States,” Sarver said. Upon further investigation, Sarver learned that five of those schools are located in Arizona, and with Central High School being so close to the Suns’ home at US Airways Center  he felt compelled to help.

The Teachers College involvement with SunsCentral emphasizes placement of ASU students in math, science, English and history classrooms at Central High School. The students and their mentor teachers will work together to support students across these disciplines. ASU student interns, as juniors, will spend one day a week at Central High School. Teacher candidates in their senior year will spend four days a week on campus, providing structured tutoring for at-risk students for two periods and co-teaching with their mentor teachers for three periods.

The kickoff meeting for SunsCentral took place recently at US Airways Center before a Suns home game. Teachers College students who will be student interns at Central had the opportunity to meet with their mentor teachers for the coming semester; together they participated in a professional development session focusing on successful co-teaching. It was an inspirational location for such a session, taking place in the locker room of the two-time WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury. Attendees received an enthusiastic welcome from Sarver and then got to enjoy that evening’s Suns game.

“The event was an effective way to begin building camaraderie among ASU student interns and the experienced Central High School teachers who will help them apply what they have learned in the classroom to become effective, inspirational teachers in their own right,” said Nancy Perry, assistant dean of clinical services for Teachers College. “We also are looking forward to playing a role in inspiring students at Central to accomplish their educational goals.”

The partnership also comes as Teachers College expands its iTeachAZ curriculum from elementary education programs to secondary education. iTeachAZ is the redesigned teacher preparation program that places greater emphasis on clinical experiences and knowledge of academic content for future teachers.

The cornerstone of iTeachAZ is a significantly enhanced student teaching experience, dubbed the senior-year residency, which encompasses an entire academic year, versus the traditional one-semester model. Starting in the fall of 2013, Teachers College secondary education majors at Central will participate in senior-year residencies.

“At Teachers College we look for every possible avenue to help students at all levels to succeed,” Koerner said. “SunsCentral employs a variety of approaches and tactics to support students at Central High School in their quest to earn their diplomas, and we are extremely pleased that the Suns gave us the opportunity to be involved with such a worthwhile project.”