Q&A with Verde Valley Teacher of the Week Natalie Rice
COTTONWOOD – Quality teachers are “dedicated, caring, and talented.” According to Ben Russel, lead administrator at Verde Christian Academy in Cottonwood, Natalie Rice is a quality teacher.
Russel said that the school’s fifth-year kindergarten teacher “spends much time and energy planning interesting lessons for students.”
“I remember a few weeks back coming in to work early in the morning to get something done,” Russel said. “Who did I find here already preparing for the day – with three kids in tow? Natalie.”
It’s her love of kids that inspired Rice to become an educator in the first place. Once she became a parent, Rice also became involved in foster care.
Though she had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management, Rice said that “God really showed me in many ways that he wants me working with children and the path to education was laid out right in front of me.”
Russel said that Rice uses “some very effective tools to inspire students and to keep them actively engaged.” Perhaps her greatest tool, the “refreshing gift of optimism.”
“She is always positive with students and shows care and concern,” Russel said. “She welcomes students into her classroom each day with a choice. Would they prefer to give her a high five, fist bump, hug or handshake? Kids get excited to go into her room each day.”
Besides her love of children, Rice said she “love[s] that this job is never boring.”
“You never know what to expect, and you never know where your group discussions will lead to,” Rice said. “I find out the sweetest and funniest things about kids during circle time. I also love the thought of making a difference in a person’s life, I really believe that teaching is a calling, not just a job.”
Verde Valley Newspapers: Explain your teaching style.
Natalie Rice: “I love a student-centered classroom. In all my lessons, I try as best as I can to give students choice of how they want to learn and let them lead our discussions.
“Student centered classrooms are big on collaboration with peers and cooperative learning where students are still learning from me but, also from and with each other. I am also very big on active participation which means that all students are participating and engaged all the time.”
VVN: Do you have a favorite quote?
Rice: “My goal as a kindergarten teacher is to make all my students know they are loved and treasured. I desire for my classroom to be not only creative and fun, but a safe place to learn. I believe that when a teacher creates a climate of love, safety and respect, great learning will follow.”
VVN: If you were not a teacher, what could you see yourself doing?
Rice: “If I were not a teacher, I would be a professional world traveler or vacationer. I would figure out a way to make money from traveling.”
VVN:Tell us something that not too many people know about you.
Rice: “I have a huge passion for missions and helping children in other countries be able to reach their goals. When my children graduate high school I would love to go to third world countries with a mission of helping as many kids as I can.”
— Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42
Verde Christian Academy to become K-8 school – in three years
COTTONWOOD – Verde Christian Academy has decided to take a page from Cottonwood-Oak Creek’s playbook.
For each of the next three school years, Cottonwood’s Christian school will add a grade to its pre-K to 5 population until it is a K-8 school, according to school administrator Ben Russell.
Russel said that though middle school “has been a dream at Verde Christian Academy for a long time,” grades 6 through 8 can be “the most difficult and the most rewarding years for children.”
“It is the time where we question who we are and who we want to become,” he said.
Russel said that “several factors” over the past few years inspired the school that it could expand its curriculum to include middle schoolers.
When C-OC began to offer K-8 curriculum district-wide this year, Russel figured that families “would send students to other schools where students have been together since [kindergarten].”
For the 2019-2020 school year, Verde Christian will add a sixth grade class, followed by a seventh grade class in 2020-2021 and an eighth grade class the following year.
Russel said that he “anticipate[s] being close to full in our sixth grade next year.”
To prepare for the school’s expansion, administration and the school’s fifth graders have “been brainstorming ideas for middle school.”
“They are excited to help us pilot our expansion,” Russel said.
Though the school’s grade 6 through grade 8 offerings will begin each as single classroom, Russel said the school’s plans are to have students will switch between teachers for math, language and science, as well as electives and “separate discipleship classes for boys and for girls.”
“As the school grows, students will be able to participate in interscholastic sports and other extracurricular trips and activities,” Russel said. “We also plan to develop separate multi-age groups within our school called houses. Houses would provide mentoring opportunities between students and would give a further sense of community and belonging at VCA.”
Verde Christian Academy is located at 102 S. Willard St. in Cottonwood. For more information, call 928-634-8113.
— Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42
Verde Christian nets 5-star rating for preschool program
- Originally Published: January 30, 2019
COTTONWOOD – A few years back, Verde Christian Academy resolved itself to create what Ben Russel called a “better product for our kids.”
Thanks to First Things First’s Quality First program, the preschool program at Verde Christian Academy has become a five-star program.
Before the school’s winter break, a representative from Quality First visited the Cottonwood Christian school to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.
The result, a five-star rating, from the entity that “supports early education,” said Russel, Verde’s Christian’s lead administrator.
“They came to campus and looked at the interactions in the classroom, the environment of the play areas and the open areas, looked at our files,” Russel said. “They follow a rating scale to determine what level we’re at.”
Quality First measures criteria such as: Health and safety practices that promote children’s basic wellbeing; Staff qualifications, including experience working with infants, toddlers and preschoolers as well as training or college coursework in early childhood development and education; Teacher-child interactions that are positive, consistent and nurture healthy development and learning; Learning environments, including age-appropriate books, toys and learning materials that promote emotional, social, language and cognitive development; Lessons that follow state requirements or recommendations for infants, toddlers and preschoolers; Group sizes that give young children the individual attention they need; and Child assessment and parent communication that keeps families regularly informed of their child’s development.
Also important, that the Quality First representatives watched as teachers interact with students, as they asked “open ended questions,” Russel said.
The five-star rating actually came after Verde Christian’s preschool became an accredited program, Russel said.
Moving forward, Russel said that Verde Christian should receive “more grant funding as a result of the rating.”
— Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42
Verde Christian students help two brothers fight leukemia
- Originally Published: December 22, 2018 11:33 a.m.
COTTONWOOD – More often than not, folks know Adopt-a-Family as the program that helps families with money for food and presents each year at Christmas.
But Betty Midkiff’s fifth grade class at Verde Christian Academy recently gave to a local family something even more meaningful.
Two brothers – former students at the Christian school in Cottonwood – have leukemia. So Midkiff talked to her students about the meaning of Christmas, and they raised $722 to help 15-year-old Brady and 17-year-old Aidan Skoch fight the disease.
Sophomore Brady Skoch has had to leave classes at Mingus Union High School to go to Washington D.C. with his mother for treatment.
Russel said that Brady is currently entering his second round of cancer treatments and that “this round will be difficult.”
Aiden, also attending Mingus Union, is a junior and recently performed in the school play “A Christmas Carol.”
“After hearing of the Skoch family’s struggle, they decided to get involved,” said Ben Russel, lead administrator at Verde Christian Academy. “Mrs. Midkiff encouraged them not only to ask their families to assist, but to ask others to get involved, and to do odd jobs to raise funds themselves as well.”
In addition to the money the children raised, the school donated another $300, which Russel said allowed the children to give Kevin Skoch a $1,022 check.
“Mr. Skoch grabbed for the tissues as he listened to the students telling their stories,” Russel said. “He then shared how grateful his family is to the class. It was a powerful scene, watching the students as they listened to Skoch tell his story. This Christmas will be a memorable one for those involved.”
The Skoch family has a GoFundMe page as they raise money for medical expenses, www.gofundme.com/skochboys.
Our Preschool has received a 5 Star rating from Quality First. Verde Christian Academy is the first Preschool in the Verde Valley to receive a 5 star rating, and one of only 3 in Northern Arizona.
We are so proud of our Preschool Team!
Q&A with VERDE VALLEY’S EDUCATOR OF THE WEEK Debra Terrey, first grade teacher, Verde Christian Academy
- Originally Published: November 13, 2018 1:21 p.m.
COTTONWOOD – Ben Russel recently sat behind Verde Christian Academy first grade teacher Deb Terrey during the school’s chapel time.
What the school’s lead administrator noticed was a “rather energetic” former student of Terrey’s wrap an arm around the teacher’s waist. They stood together, the student and Terrey, while they sang a song.
“It was evident that this was a relationship formed deeper than most,” Russel said. The school, and its students, are “blessed to have had Mrs. Terry working with, and loving on, our elementary students for these years.”
More than 30 years in education, the past 26 at Verde Christian Academy. Terrey was in high school when she first decided that she wanted to become a teacher.
In the classroom, Terrey said that she “really enjoy[s] seeing my students learn new concepts.”
“They are very enthusiastic about learning and it is so rewarding to see the light bulb come on when they make a new connection,” Terry said. “I also thoroughly enjoy teaching piano lessons and seeing the growth that my students are making on a weekly basis.”
Terrey has a “calm and quiet classroom” with “many opportunities to learn,” Russel said.
“She blends her teaching with myriad opportunities for students to gather together in pairs and in groups to process and work together on information that they have been learning,” Russel said. “Her students are often found engaged and having fun. They love her and strive to perform well for her.”
If Terrey was not a teacher, she “would like to be a guidance counselor to help high school students as they transition into college.”
VVN: Tell us about your teaching style.
Terrey: I am really enjoying using Cooperative Learning Strategies in my classroom. The students work in small groups and every student is accountable for participating in the assignment and answering questions about what another team member’s ideas were. This is a great way to keep all the kids on task and they also learn from each other.
VVN: Tell us something notable about your career.
Terrey: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with an Endorsement in Music Education.
I finished my Master’s Degree in Elementary Education with a 3.95 GPA.
VVN: Do you have a favorite quote or saying?
Terrey: When students know that teachers care about their lives, they will strive to do their best work in class.
VVN: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
In college, I wasn’t sure if this was the profession I was best suited for.
When I started my student teaching program, I found that I loved teaching and have ever since.
I thoroughly enjoy getting to know my students and their families and I love the different ways kids think.
It is the most rewarding job I can imagine and I keep an encouragement file with notes and letters the kids have written to me over the years.
Proposition 305: It’s all about your choice on what is best education ‘fit’ for your child
- Originally Published: October 27, 2018 2:31 p.m.
As a school administrator I’ve been asked numerous times about Prop 305. I am a strong supporter of school choice because I have seen its powerful effects in action. I am a supporter of school choice because it offers great benefit to all schools, including district schools. I am a supporter of school choice because of Robby.
Recently I watched young Robby stand proudly on stage. His face was filled with a shining smile. Robby was being recognized in front of our whole school. He is a great friend, always an encourager, and knows very clearly what he believes. The students clapped for him as he walked happily back to his seat.
Robby came to Verde Christian Academy very timid and shy. He had a hard time interacting with others. He wasn’t a sports guy and he wasn’t extremely academic. He had struggled to find the right fit at his previous school. His parents brought him to VCA based on the AZ tax credit program and it has made all the difference for him and his family. I have watched Robby change from a shy student to a confident and passionate one. It happened at a school that puts a lot of emphasis on helping students find their gifting and their passions.
Robby is not a perfect fit for every school. He is definitely a perfect fit at VCA. In most states, Robby’s family would not have been able to choose to send him to a private school. This is because Robby’s family struggles financially. In the past, only families with extra income could afford to pay school taxes as well as tuition for their children.
Poorer families were forced to go to their closest district school. Thanks to Arizona’s strong stance on school choice, many families like Robby’s have the ability to choose between a number of quality schools; district, charter, private, or home school.
More and more families are realizing what a powerful thing school choice is. Our school is increasingly serving families of diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds as a result of our unique mission and vision. Other schools are doing the same. Watching whole families flower under a school that fits their vision is unbelievably fulfilling for an administrator. This relatively young program in Arizona is having a great effect on our students.
Here are some facts about school choice based on the research of Edchoice.Org.
• Every fiscal study looking at school choice has found either positive or no effect on a state. This means most programs save the state money (effectively allowing more dollars per student to be invested in public ed).
• Nearly all academic studies of school choice programs have found that they drives academic improvement in district schools
• Arizona is the only state to improve on all 8 NAEP exams from 2009-2015
• Most studies on parent choice found that school choice programs increased students’ civic values including tolerance, volunteering, and voting.
School choice saves the state money, which can then be put back into public schools. School choice increases parents’ overall satisfaction with schooling. School choice also raises student performance in district schools. This is an important program for our district schools.
It is unfortunate that so much misinformation surrounds school choice in Arizona.
School choice is in no way about attacking our district schools. They are an extremely important part of our community. We have had the fortune to work closely with our local district schools here in the Verde Valley and they are passionate about students and their progress. District schools need our support and proper funding. This is about choice.
Why did you choose your bank? Your grocery store? Your cell phone? The pants you are wearing? Because someone worked hard to make them your BEST FIT!
Whether it is Prop 305 or other school choice initiatives, let’s come together as a community around the idea that we all support a family’s right to choose the best fit for their child.
Ben Russel is the administrator of the Verde Christian Academy in Cottonwood.
VERDE VALLEY EDUCATOR OF THE WEEK: Rhonda Johnson
Preschool assistant director, Technology Teacher, Librarian Verde Christian Academy Cottonwood
- Originally Published: May 29, 2018 3:15 p.m.
COTTONWOOD – Jack of all trades, master of none. Nobody at Verde Christian Academy would say this about Rhonda Johnson.
As the school’s assistant preschool director, technology director and librarian, Johnson wears “a lot of hats and wears them all well,” said Ben Russell, the school’s lead administrator.
“Mrs. Johnson’s skills vary from teaching and loving on preschoolers, to teaching technology class and managing the library,” Russell said. “These myriad responsibilities necessitate a lot of skills and talents on her part.”
To handle a variety of tasks at the proverbial drop of a hat, it helps that Johnson is “always calm and has a positive outlook,” Russell said.
“She is a passionate gift-giver and often showers staff with blessings and gifts,” Russell said. “She brings a great spirit to our staff, spreading cheer like Arizona sunshine.”
In her fifth year at Verde Christian Academy, her eighth year as an educator, Johnson did not know until college that she wanted to teach.
“In high school I told everyone that I just wanted to be a good mom,” Johnson said. “When I went to college, I went into Elementary Education. Now part of my teaching is the littlest (preschool) and feel like I am now able to be a mama to my littles, as I call them.”
What Johnson likes most about her work is the “variety of subjects and students that I get to teach and reach.”
Johnson said that her teaching style is “inquiry based.”
“In preschool, I allow my students to do centers that are open to them using a variety of developmentally appropriate items and letting them discover how to use them,” Johnson said. “This open center time is over half of their time in preschool each day and also leads to differentiated instruction, play-based learning, and kinesthetic learning. These are all vital parts of a child’s learning and development.”
“In the area of education, this public award of educator of the week would be my first notable recognition.”
“We are not born with empathy. We have to be taught it.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Johnson is a third-generation teacher. Her mother and grandmother were teachers.
Photo Credit: Jill Myers with Jill Kristine Photography
We are a vibrant community who exist for the purpose of assisting families in their God-given call to educate their children. We partner with a variety of families including those who are looking for a strong Christian foundation as well as those who are passionate about finding a safe environment with high expectations and quality academics. Located on the campus of the Verde Community Church we are blessed to have bright spacious classrooms, a full-size gymnasium, and a large playground complete with a plethora of equipment More Info >>
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