The write thing: GCU gives computers to local school
Story by Janie Magruder
Photos by Tyler McDonald
In her communications courses at Grand Canyon University, alumna Lisa Cass learned one of the cardinal rules of being a journalist: There’s no question too dumb to ask.
It’s a lesson that came in handy this school year when Cass decided to find out whether her alma mater had any computers it no longer needed. GCU did, much to her delight and that of 100 beginning and advanced journalism students at Independence High in Glendale who sometimes spent more time waiting for their computers to boot and less time learning than Cass would have liked.
Her classroom now is outfitted with 35 Dell computers and monitors that hum right along. The equipment was donated by GCU in February and the final student project was saved Wednesday on the last day of school.
Junior Julianna Cortez, who has taken Cass’ journalism classes for three years, said the donation has improved the school work of her and 34 classmates, and benefited the writing, photography, editing and design of the school’s newspaper, Patriot Glory. Software, including InDesign, is giving students new experiences in creating a variety of pages.
“The computers run faster, so we’re able to get more things done and be more efficient in our work,” said Cortez, who will be the 2015-16 editor-in-chief of Patriot Glory. “They also have newer settings so we’re able to play around more to see what we can do design-wise.”
From student athlete to teacher
Cass, a west Phoenix native and the Independence High Class of 2001 valedictorian, played point guard for four years on GCU’s women’s basketball team. She earned a bachelor’s in communications in 2005 and was awarded the Roland L. Beck Award, given each year to two senior male and female athletes who demonstrate excellence in the classroom, Christian leadership and community service.
Cass’ coach, Kip Drown, suggested she continue her education at GCU by pursuing a teaching degree, and offered her a position as an assistant coach for that year. She did her student teaching in the English department at Independence, where her mom, Terry, a former elementary school teacher, now is a counselor. Cass graduated from GCU with a master’s in secondary education in 2006, and started teaching journalism at Independence later that fall.
“God totally opened the door, and everything just fell into place,” she said. “I love the students, and I feel connected to this community because I came from here. It’s important for me to see students seeing and seeking the potential that is right in front of them.”
For the past nine years, Cass has been teaching students skills such as good reporting, writing, editing and public speaking and creating and executing events and communications plans. She opens their eyes to still-
viable careers in communications and public relations. Independence High has three journalism courses, triple that of other high schools in the Glendale Union High School District, and Patriot Glory is published six times is a year.
During her time as a teacher, the Internet has greatly impacted print and electronic journalism, and Cass must annually update her curriculum to reflect those changes. She relies on her tech-savvy Gen Zers to teach her new tricks, too.
“The media is changing, and the kids are teaching me a lot about the technical side of journalism and social media,” Cass said. “For example, we do Twitter practice now — I never did that when I first started out.”
To fulfill a project on community relations, Cortez, junior Justin Leano and sophomore Bianca Ramirez were among students who recently visited seven area feeder schools, including Bicentennial North, to promote Freshman Patriot Pride Night in the fall. Ramirez, the Patriot Glory’s photo editor who wants to be a math teacher, said the experience helped boost her confidence in speaking to large groups of students.
“Journalism has helped me come out of my shell,” she said. “Being a teacher means you have 30 kids and being shy in front of them could be a weakness. We had practiced the material in class, and once I stood up in front of the Bicentennial kids, it was, ‘I got this.’”
Asking the right question
Cass, who also is the school’s Title I coordinator, believed her students could benefit from better tools to learn and do their jobs, so she approached GCU in November to ask about computers that no longer were being used. Dr. Tacy Ashby, senior vice president of GCU’s Strategic Educational Alliances, Joe Mildenhall, chief information officer, and Stephen Gee, director of IT technical services, immediately responded. Independence High is a GCU Participant in Learning, Leading and Serving, a program that offers services and opportunities focused on attracting, retaining and maintaining quality professionals in education and educational leadership.
“We are working hard to serve and support those schools that are partners in our four alliances, and this is yet another good example,” Ashby said.
Over the past year, GCU has donated computers to the Phoenix Dream Center, Joy Christian School in Glendale, Western School of Science and Technology in Phoenix, the Scottsdale Unified School District and, now, Independence High, Gee said.
“We were happy to help Independence High’s journalism program with the donation of computers that the University no longer needed,” Gee said. “Any time we can help kids, whether they are elementary students learning to read or seniors in high school perfecting their research and writing skills, we are more than glad to assist. It’s part of the University’s five-point plan to support K-12 outreach and one way we give back to the community.”
Brian Mueller, GCU’s president and CEO, and Mildenhall have directed the IT department to donate equipment that no longer meets the University’s needs to other community-minded organizations that may be able to get several more years from it, Gee said.
“The computers were older models that no longer were compatible with our curriculum requirements and technology upgrades, but they still are fully functional,” Gee said.
This spring, the desktops were used by Independence students to produce a campaign that encouraged the campus to support Earth Day through recycling. And Cass’ students, including Cortez, who plans to attend GCU, are well on their way to being Google Doc experts, too.
“The skills they learn in journalism are skills they can use in whatever career they choose,” Cass said.
Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or [email protected].