GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — As the school year kicks off for Grand Canyon School, three new teachers will join the faculty in welcoming students back today.
Adrian Alvarez, a native of Phoenix who has spent the past few years in California, will be taking over the middle school science class. Alvarez has taught several years at the elementary level and as a behavioral tutor in a Head Start program for children on the autism spectrum. Although this will be her first year teaching only science, Alvarez said she fell in love with science while teaching the curriculum to her elementary students.
“What better place to teach science than here?” she said.
Along with her love of science, Alvarez is also involved with the arts, and one of her goals at Grand Canyon is to help turn STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum into STEAM curriculum, which includes the arts, particularly performing arts.
At her last campus, Alvarez said she and a colleague were able to start the theater department, incorporating all the students into a school-wide production. Last year, her students performed in a “Hamilton” adaptation called “Revolutionary.” Alvarez and her husband edited all the music and wrote the script.
“Eventually, I’d like to join with colleagues here and see how we can incorporate the arts into curriculum standards,” she said. “That’s really important to me as a learner myself, because I have learned a great deal about many other things through that avenue.”
Alvarez moved to the area with her husband and two sons. Her oldest will attend Williams High School, where he hopes to play baseball, and her youngest will be attending fourth grade at Grand Canyon.
“He wants to be a geologist, so he’s definitely in the right place,” she said.
Bill Randes, who moved to the Grand Canyon from Maryland, will be wearing many hats this year, including 12th grade government, ninth grade world history and middle school social studies.
“In April, we found out that they had an opening for social studies here, so my daughter and I flew out here and had an interview and we liked it,” he said. “She’ll be starting ninth grade here.”
Randes started teaching special education in Alaska, where he moved on a whim and decided to get his teaching license. He taught for 13 years in Maryland before deciding to retire, but the allure of teaching in the Grand Canyon persuaded him to give it a few more years.
While civics isn’t always the most glamourous subject to teach, Randes said he tries to pay attention to what the kids are interested in and go from there.
“If there’s something they’re interested in at the time, I try to pull everyone in on that,” he said. “They love war, anything to do with war, that’s mostly the boys. The girls are usually always interested in the Renaissance era — the arts and different types of music. They’re interested in learning about all the historic periods, Paleolithic and Neolithic.”
Neither Alvarez nor Randes are strangers to teaching middle school, which can be the most challenging age as children become teens and start the process of figuring out who they are.
“They’re trying to figure out who they are, figure out their own personalities, where they fit in this world and within themselves,” Randes said. “A lot of them just want to hide, and I try to pull them out as much as I can. That’s the challenge.”
Alvarez said one of her biggest challenges is finding everyone’s particular strengths on an individual and community level.
“There’s more we can do together than we could ever do separately,” she said. “Identifying those strengths early is challenging and also probably the most rewarding thing — when you see that initial establishment of a community and benefits of that.”
“None of them have a weakness, they all have something you can work with,” he said.
Rounding out the new faculty, Sage Boerke will be teaching high school science. Originally from Ohio, he recently taught for six years in Vermont.
“Science is really a fascinating thing,” he said. “Really, you can make any of it interesting. Kids are naturally little scientists — they’re constantly trying things to see what works, what doesn’t work.”
Boerke said he considers the best thing about teaching to be the connections made with students that can last lifetimes.
“I still have regular contact with kids that I worked with years ago,” he said. “The first time I taught was 20 years ago … seeing those students who have children and families of their own now and keeping those contacts is probably the best part of teaching, the impact you can have on someone’s life.”