Eagles in the News! Mrs. Leckington 3/27/2018

Eagles in the News! Mrs. Leckington 3/27/2018


Second-grade teacher, Verde Christian Academy, Cottonwood

After 18 years in the classroom, the last six at Verde Christian Academy, Leckington says that if she was not a teacher, she would be a school psychologist, high school guidance counselor, or marriage and family therapist. (Photo by Bill Helm)

After 18 years in the classroom, the last six at Verde Christian Academy, Leckington says that if she was not a teacher, she would be a school psychologist, high school guidance counselor, or marriage and family therapist. (Photo by Bill Helm)

COTTONWOOD – Erin Leckington is charged each day with shaping the destiny of her classroom at Cottonwood’s Verde Christian Academy.

The second grade teacher says she is “humbled” each day by the opportunity.

“I love fostering a love of truth and knowledge in my students, engaging in thoughtful discussions, collaborating with my co-workers [and] creating exciting lessons,” Leckington says. “But the most rewarding would be witnessing my students’ not only grow academically but spiritually as well.”

It was as a college student that Leckington, when she first worked part-time with preschoolers, “fell in love” with teaching.

After 18 years in the classroom, the last six at Verde Christian Academy, Leckington says that if she was not a teacher, she would be a school psychologist, high school guidance counselor, or marriage and family therapist.

“I just can’t get away from helping others,” she says.

For that sentiment, her supervisor is most happy.

Ben Russel, principal at Verde Christian Academy, has a “special blend” of “intangibles in teaching that differentiate[s] between good educators and great ones.”

“From the first day of school to the last, her students practice classroom procedures so that they always know what classroom expectations are and can feel confident and successful following them,” Russel says.

Says Russel, Leckington manages her classroom with “grace and kindness.”

“Her classroom feels organized and peaceful,” Russel says. “It’s remarkable to watch how well students perform in this environment.”


“Quite frankly, I use a variety of teaching styles to engage my students. I make sure I incorporate the elements of effective instruction into every lesson, creativity, and Cooperative Learning so that each student is actively engaged. Students who love coming to school and learn is what I aim for.”


Erin is a member of the Psi Chi Honor Society.

Founded in 1929, the function of the Psi Chi Honor Society is to encourage, stimulate and maintain excellence in scholarship, and advance the science of psychology.


Says Ben Russel, Leckington “makes a difference by blending high expectations with great management and care and concern.”

“This is a magical blend in teaching because when students know what the expectations are and are given the chance to stretch their brains in a loving environment, they thrive.”


Leckington also work with professional development company Branching Out as an instructor, helping teachers grow in their profession.”

“I love teaching because it not only shapes the character and the mind of an individual, but future destinies as well and I get the pleasure to take part in that.”


Eagles in the News! Mrs. Santamaria 2/7/2018

Eagles in the News! Mrs. Santamaria 2/7/2018

Verde Valley Educator of the Week: Alice Santamaria, Third-grade teacher, Verde Christian Academy, Cottonwood

Photo detail

Photo by Bill Helm.

A teacher for the past 30 years, Alice Santamaria grew up with a plan to be a missionary nurse.

COTTONWOOD – It’s been 30 years since Alice Santamaria began her teaching career.

At Verde Christian Academy the past 17 years, the third grade teacher knew right out of high school that she wanted to return to the classroom to help mold the minds of her community’s youth.

According to Ben Russel, principal at Verde Christian Academy, Santamaria displays “vast amounts of grace and patience in the classroom.”

“It’s evident from the first step into her room that she cares,” Russel says. “Her voice is always calm and patient, her words are chosen carefully to show love and concern, and her management style creates a calm and warm classroom environment.”

Santamaria says that she loves how children “relate to the world around us with such wonder and enthusiasm.”

Her favorite part about teaching is “when a child has been struggling academically and suddenly the lights go on. It’s a precious moment and I feel incredible to be there to witness it.”


If Alice Santamaria was not a teacher, she would “probably do something where I could express my creative side, but I think I would still work with kids somehow. I can’t imagine my life without being around them.”


“I am truly grateful for the privilege of teaching in Christian schools. While I enjoy being a part of helping children prepare academically to be successful adults, I love watching the growth that happens in a child’s heart.

“Seeing them put their trust in Christ, become even more loving and kind to those around them, and handling tough situations with faith and grace is truly rewarding far beyond the temporary moment. It’s life changing.”


“While I enjoy learning and implementing new ideas for making the classroom atmosphere more engaging, I would have to say that for me teaching is relational.

“It seems that the more I love on the kids, pray for them, treat them with respect and grace while letting them know that I am there to help them succeed, the higher progress I see in my students.

“Once the kids realize I really do believe in each one’s individual success, they too begin to believe it for themselves and from there … the sky is the limit.”


“I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a teacher. In fact, I had always planned to be a missionary nurse in Africa. Once I realized that nursing wasn’t for me, I had no idea what I was to do with my life.

“Through God’s guidance and the help of my parents, I realized I had a gift for teaching and that I had already been doing so in many related activities.

“From there, the call to teaching was very evident and I have never regretted my decision to pursue it and love it.

“Along with teaching in regular classrooms, it has also led me to many other adventures including teaching in Costa Rica for 13 years, teaching children Spanish and even English as a second language to adults here in the States. It’s been a great career.”

Originally Published: February 6, 2018 11:45 a.m.

Eagles in the News! 12/12/17  Mrs. Peggy White

Eagles in the News! 12/12/17 Mrs. Peggy White

Verde Valley Educator of the Week: Peggy White

When Peggy White isn’t teaching fourth graders at Verde Christian Academy, she can be found writing her blog called Word of the Day. (Photo by Bill Helm)

When Peggy White isn’t teaching fourth graders at Verde Christian Academy, she can be found writing her blog called Word of the Day. (Photo by Bill Helm)

COTTONWOOD – Peggy White says that if she weren’t an educator, she’d love to be a writer.

Truth is, the fourth grade teacher at Verde Christian Academy in Cottonwood also blogs each day.

Called Word of the Day, the purpose of White’s blog is to “encourage those who need encouragement.”

When not writing, White is prone to making a difference in the lives of her young students.

“We all remember the teachers who had a remarkable impact on our lives,” says Ben Russell, lead administrator at Verde Christian Academy. “They loved learning, had a grace-based approach, and made everyone feel loved and included.

“Mrs. White is that kind of teacher. Her passion for learning sparks students’ curiosity.”

Russell points to White’s love of Arizona history as a “highlight from her classroom.”

“Her class can be found on monthly treks across this beautiful state in search of clues from the past,” Russell says. “From gold panning, to museums, to hunting apples in Oak Creek Canyon, her students catch a lifelong desire to know and grow.”

White says that she came “from a family of teachers, including both my parents.”

“After high school it just seemed natural to go after my teaching degree,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”


“I have always loved having the students work in groups doing hands-on projects. I feel it is crucial that they learn to work and learn together with others.

“In recent years, I have upped my group work based on classes I took in Essentials of Education, Differentiated Instruction, and Kagin Structures. These classes have enabled me engage the children’s attention as well as making my teaching more effective.”


Featured in ADDitude Magazine.

Also, her daughter Betsy is following in her footsteps and is now teaching in the classroom next door.


“I want my students to come to school with a smile on their faces anticipating the plans I have for them and I want them to go home each day with a smile having enjoyed their day.

“In between, I want them to learn all they need to know to be successful; and learn it in a way that meets their individual learning style.”


White’s entire teaching career has been in Christian education.

“I am happy to be a part of a move toward greater excellence in Christian schools,” she says.

Eagles in the News! Christmas Parade 2017

Eagles in the News! Christmas Parade 2017

Verde Christian Academy in the Cottonwood Christmas Parade 2017

Parade organizer Colleen Gilboy said the 2017edition of the Cottonwood Christmas Parade was “the best parade ever.” VVN Halie Chavez

Grand Prize – Theme – Cottonwood Public Library – Teen Library Council

Judges Choice – Verde Valley Sanctuary

Magic Award – Verde Valley Rentals

Small Group – Coldwell Banker – Mabery Realty

Large Group – Verde Christian Academy ( Yay!!!! )


Parade organizer Colleen Gilboy said, “HUGE thank you to KVRD/TV 2 for their sound systems, TV coverage and announcers, to Scott Mabery, Tosca Henry, Rick Peterson, Amy Brown, Stephanie Gilboy, Rose and Scott Wilburn, Richard Shay, Rebecca Hernandez, Kristine Follett, Sean Winkler, Mike Gilboy; you are all behind the scenes making me look good and doing all the heavy lifting to make it all flow, I love you all very much!!!! To Verde News for their coverage of the parade, and posting the line-up and to all the participants thank you for making the 2017 parade the best parade ever.”

VCA Participates in Kids Against Hunger  10-21-17

VCA Participates in Kids Against Hunger 10-21-17

Image result for Kids against hunger manzanita outreach

Kids Against Hunger was a lot of fun!! Over 800 Volunteers of all ages, from the Verde Valley area, came to help in the assembling lines. In two hours we helped to provide a hungry child with a life sustaining meal every day for an entire year. Isn’t that amazing! Thank you VCA families who came to join our teams!


Eagles in the News!   9-6-17

Eagles in the News! 9-6-17

Verde Independent 

Verde Valley Christian School now Verde Christian Academy

Ben Russel

Ben Russel

COTTONWOOD – Despite a reputation for both academics and faith, the folks at Verde Valley Christian School have spent the past few years considering a new name for their academic program.

With a new website, the renamed Verde Christian Academy continues its mission while increasing its focus on “providing a rigorous academic environment for children,” says Ben Russel, the school’s administrator.

According to Russel, Verde Christian Academy is a ministry of the Verde Community Church.

Besides the new website, the program has a new logo and what Russel calls a “whole bunch of new, fun VCA collectibles.” Verde Christian Academy is also in the process of developing new signage.

For close to four decades, Russel says the program “has come to mean dependable quality education infused with values and Christian worldview.

“This year represents fresh change,” he says. “Our desire is to communicate our focus on academics and spiritual formation with families in our community. This is the simplest way to let you know who we are and what makes us unique; same commitment to strong values and a renewed focus on reaching.”

Verde Christian Academy has also hired a part time Professional Learning Coordinator. A teacher at Grand Canyon University, where she is also studying to earn her Doctorate, Lisa Clemson is “passionate about student learning and is plugging in with us on Wednesdays to help us take the next steps of learning and growing,” Russel says.

The school’s academic direction, which Russel says has been implemented for the past five years, includes curriculum mapping and development, as well as classroom best practices.

Russel says that last year, the school focused on mapping its language curriculum.

“This means that we want to ensure that we have intentionally developed a plan for what and how students will learn in language from preschool through fifth grade,” he says. “Schools often simply teach from a textbook and rarely complete it by the end of the year.  This can cause gaps in student learning.”

So Verde Christian Academy has been working hard to provide what Russel calls “engaging lessons that are differentiated for student strengths.”

“This means our students are receiving instruction closer to their ability levels,” Russel says. “They are also receiving many opportunities to process their learning with peers. Research shows that these techniques can vastly improve student learning.”

For more information, visit myvcacademy.com or call 928-634-8113. Verde Christian Academy is located at 102 S Willard St. in Cottonwood.



Igniting Hearts. Unleashing Minds


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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