Our culture begins as students take the first step on campus! Walking onto the campus of Senita Valley Elementary, one will see a sign that reads: SENITA VALLEY IS AN EXCELLING SCHOOL. To the left is the glass encased bulletin board where one will find the school’s newsletter, SPIRIT NEWS, listing all of the activities that are available to students, staff, and families such as sports opportunities, art classes, and community events and fundraising currently occurring.
To the left are several large potted plants, their greenery giving a sense of warmth on a cold day in the desert. A metal sign stands in one of the pots proclaiming, “EVERY DAY COUNTS!”
Entering the lobby, one is first struck by the large hangings of the three most important documents of the Vail School District – The Guiding Principles, the ACT Statement and the REACH Statement. This is NOT the last time one will see the ACT or REACH statement as they permeate the campus, a reminder of our culture and our commitments:
In the Vail Schools, we ACT: Are Respectful and Trustworthy, Care About Each other, and Take Responsibility. We ACT!
In the Vail Schools, we REACH.
Reteach and enrich every day
Ensure every moment counts
Achieve success only when students learn
Come together as a team
Have high expectations
Continuing down the hall one will see signs asking you a question, “Have you filled a bucket today?” – a reminder that in our quest for academic success, we also believe that educating the WHOLE student is necessary. Filling a bucket – acts and words of kindness – make students feel safe and nurtured. All students have their own small bucket in the classroom where students can place notes with positive and encouraging words. Students are recognized for acts of kindness with a Be Kind certificate. Staff are recognized with a Ben’s Bells award, nominated by other staff members. (Bucket Fillers and Be Kind Program are further referenced in section B2.)
Amongst the welcome signs, one will find the volunteer sign-in and information desk, our way of welcoming the community to be a part of Senita Valley’s education of students. More potted plants – mirroring the living bodies that abound in this space every single day – remind us that it is our job to nurture and support growth.
A small digital screen displays smiling faces of students engaged in a recent school-wide Craft Day as well as photos from a Spell-A-Thon celebration assembly, where teachers dressed up like bees, and a few lucky students got to “honey” their favorite teacher. Other photos display the recent Mother/Son Mudventure evening event, a highly attended Parent Town Hall night, and the hard work of our music teacher’s most recent musical program.
A three-tiered wooden rack contains the usual newsletters and lunch menus, but it also holds the school handbook, notice of after-school activity clubs run by teachers, a grief counseling group offered to families in our community by Tu Nidito, a local organization, and teacher hand-outs from the recent Parent Town Hall. Those who were unable to attend can access the information in parent friendly language such as “THREE KEY IDEAS ABOUT ARIZONA’S COLLEGE AND CAREER READINESS STANDARDS” – a flyer created by teachers explaining the key changes to the standards and what it means for both parents and students. Next to the display is a student made sign with the anonymous HOTLINE # for students to make reports to ensure our school remains safe.
A wooden frame catches one’s eye, a certificate, the 2012 NCEA Higher Performing School Award given to us for the past three years. The Excellence in Civic Engagement Award is displayed on the lobby wall. The awards are not the main focus but rather a complimentary addition to our school’s welcoming atmosphere. The smiling office staff greet parents, students and other guests to our campus, modeling the respectful interaction expected between all of us.
Our school mascot, Spirit, is a Mustang. Mustang photos, student artwork, and sculptures are corralled in the lobby. Mustang comes from the word mesteño or “wild” in Spanish. Wild in the sense that each child is different and must be led by experienced and highly trained teachers who understand that we are not here to break their spirit, but to provide guidance for their inquisitive and individual personalities. Mustangs are known for their endurance – pioneer spirits of the west – standing strong and proud. We encourage our students to persevere through challenges so they can take pride in their achievements.
The parent volunteer room, a glass walled, light filled room is usually overflowing with wonderful community members and parents who are always thinking up something special to make both students and staff feel valued.
Walking past the nurse’s office, one will see another smiling face, a sign that reads “Don’t follow your dreams, CHASE them!” and one that reads “Life is BEAUTY full!” Positive messages abound on our campus for both students and staff members. A framed award for excellence, awarded for keeping the nurse’s information organized and immunization records up-to-date, is displayed. The Pima County Health Department has awarded this to our school for the past 5 years.
Further down the hall, one will see a wall of scrapbook paper pages, created by all staff to represent themselves, as a way to get to know each other. The creation of these scrapbook pages at the Welcome Back Retreat are displayed for the remainder of the year. New and fascinating facts are learned about each other through this endeavor. Opportunities for building relationships continually occur throughout the year with breakfast potlucks, birthday celebrations, and cookie exchanges, to name a few.
At the end of the hall is the Principal’s office. There is a vintage student desk where students may sit while waiting to speak with the Principal. Decorated with books, baskets, and an old-fashioned math toy – not the typical visit to see the Principal! This is a positive space, a place where a child knows that someone is going to listen to what he has to say, even if a disciplinary measure must be taken.
Mornings on our campus are like mornings in a family home. One will see students sleepily walking to breakfast, some who are in the OK to READ Corral reading a book, or someone who has stopped by the garden to see what is growing. Shrieks of laughter echo off the playground as Senita Valley’s courtyard comes to life.
As the first bell rings, teachers greet students personally and walk them into the classroom. Three days a week, they watch the live broadcast streaming through their teacher’s computer projected on the wall. The student led broadcast team reminds everyone of an upcoming fundraiser, special activities on campus, and events happening in the future. Special recognitions are celebrated by the ringing of the antique school bell. Guest staff announce acts of kindness they witnessed and pass on a Ben’s Bells Award to a staff member. Students are awarded Ben’s Bells certificates for acts of kindness. Names are pulled from the basket of Be Kind/Spirit Stamp winners. Stamps are given to students caught following the ACT statement, encouraging students to do their best in school that day. Student birthdays are recognized, and each broadcast ends with an inspirational quote for students to think about throughout the school day. Everyone on the broadcast team end by saying, “Have a great day, Senita Valley!”