Wishes granted, and alumni teachers are grateful

Emily Hendricks oversees her class playing Boomwhackers, a tool to break the music room silence during COVID times.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Imagine a music class silent of song.

“Because of the year we have been having, there are a lot of restrictions put on the classroom. The biggest is not being able to sing," said Emily Hendricks, who teaches K-3 music at Archway Classical Academy in Glendale. "How do you teach music without singing?”

You make a wish so the pandemic didn’t become the day the music died.

Hendricks was one of 200 Arizona teachers granted $2,500 in November through the Desert Financial Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers program, of which Grand Canyon University is a sponsor. Hendricks and three other GCU alumni who are Arizona teachers recently shared with GCU leadership and Fiesta Bowl representatives via Zoom how their wish changed the lives of students.

For Hendricks, music came back into her music room. She purchased Boomwhackers -- tuned percussion tubes that teach pitch and rhythm, whether by banging them to find a beat or reading music to create pitches.

Emily Hendricks

“Now the students and I have begun to feel as if we are actually making music,” said Hendricks, who graduated from GCU in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music with an Emphasis in Vocal Performance.

She also purchased other classroom tools, including ukuleles, and hopes to start clubs to play the instruments.

Often teachers will use their own money to purchase additional classroom items, and that’s one reason Fiesta Bowl Charities began the program in 2016.

“You know our wishes go a long way and you appreciate that, and GCU stepped in and said, ‘How can we highlight this even more?’ “ said Christian Portaro, the Fiesta Bowl's Corporate Partnership Manager.

One way is to hear the story of Eugene Sanders, who teaches children with autism, developmental delays and other disabilities.

When a kindergartener with autism who had never been to school before arrived at Sanders' Cloves Campbell Sr. Elementary School functional skills classroom in Phoenix, it was important for her to feel comfortable from the start by choosing her own seat.

Eugene Sanders

With his wish, he had purchased weighted vests and something called a wiggle seat, a sensory seat cushion for kids who need that extra flexibility to fidget so they can focus.

“She chose the wiggle seat,” he said. “It’s awesome to see it’s making an impact already, even with just one kid.”

The wish has changed his entire classroom, allowing students to better access the curriculum and communicate with other students.

“Allowing this student to choose what was most comfortable for her made her feel safe and that she had a place in the classroom,” said Sanders, who graduated from GCU in 2017 with a master’s degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

GCU College of Education Dean Dr. Kimberly LaPrade told the group on Zoom that teachers are called to do God’s work and are superheroes on the front lines. But often the challenges are steep.

“As a classroom educator for many years, I understand the needs in the classroom. We would pinch pennies and save dollars,” she said. “I was an English teacher, and I was always trying to save to buy books for my kiddos.”

Carrie Wilmot

Sometimes the wish money doesn’t only fill gaps of need but creates new innovations.

Carrie Wilmot used the money to purchase a hydroponic gardening system that will teach her students at Liberty Elementary School in Buckeye the science behind growing food sustainably, feed families in the district and help the environment.

“Our community is deeply involved in agriculture, and many of our students and their families depend on agriculture to survive,” said Wilmot, who graduated from GCU in 2018 with a master's degree in Elementary Education.

“I wanted a project that would incorporate farming but also provide for our families in need food absent of pesticides and would eliminate the use of soils by using circulating water.”

A 600-gallon tank will hold crayfish, whose waste is used as fertilizer to grow the plants in the water, creating a self-sustaining garden from vegetables and fruits.

Valerie Fleming also used the wish money to help lift the students at Apache Junction High School.

“They come from a community that has been given an unkind reputation, and so it is natural to want to overcome that stigma, which is what I see my students do every day,” said Fleming, who graduated from GCU in 2015 with a master’s degree in Special Education.

Valerie Fleming

Sports is one way to do that. She found the school needed new volleyballs, first aid kits and other items for the athletes.

“My hope is that the support that the funding provided to the athletic department will remind the student athletes that even though they feel overlooked after being put on the back burner due to restrictions from the pandemic, they are still recognized and appreciated,” she said.

The goal, Wilmot added, is to show students opportunities for an expanded life, especially in high poverty areas, and often that is through education.

The four teachers are prime examples, and they praised GCU for furthering their education.

They told LaPrade and COE Associate Dean Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick that GCU offered them continued guidance even after graduating, a growth in their spirituality and a prestige of being a graduate from a University with an honorable reputation in the community.

Fleming noticed the difference right after she graduated.

“I felt better equipped for an all-around better experience in the classroom,” she said. “Right away, I noticed a paradigm change – I had a better understanding of my students.”

And her wish for those students has now been granted.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: Colangelo makes the call: Teacher/alum gets wish

GCU Today: How GCU remains one of largest sources of teachers


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