Higley Elementary and Middle School holds the honor of being the oldest school in the Gilbert-based district.
In fact, for more than 50 years, it was the only school in what is now Higley Unified School District.
Given a fresh look recently with new paint and features, it doesn’t show its age — more than 100 years old. And the students in the classrooms are certainly working in the modern, technology-rich education age.
Fourth-graders in Marcella Schorr’s classroom used an interactive white board this week to practice their growing cursive skills.
Yes, cursive is still around in some schools. In fact, Schorr didn’t originally plan to teach that this year. But with news that the campus will become a traditional academy in fall 2013 — with cursive included — Schorr made a change.
"They’re going to have to learn it next year. They love it. It helps with their penmanship," she said, watching her class.
Higley Elementary and Middle School is already a popular option with parents. Principal Kathleen Hughes said she added an additional 200 students this school year, growing from an enrollment of 642 students to 843 today. Late last month, the school district governing board approved a plan to transition the now K-8 campus to a K-6 traditional academy.
Hughes expects to have about 880 students next year, a full campus with neighborhood students, as well as open enrollment.
The school will keep its current boundary, but seventh- and eighth-graders will move to one of the two middle schools now under construction.
There has been a desire for a traditional academy within the district boundaries for some time, Hughes said. Her staff started research and planning in the spring to put together a plan for a transition. More than 90 percent of the community supported it, she said.
"When your teachers are excited about it, your kids get excited. When your kids are excited, the parents get excited," she said.
A lot will change — from the math curriculum to the addition of cursive and Spaulding phonics, she said. But Higley will put its own "spin" on a traditional academy, she said, by keeping the interactive white boards, computer lab and other technology.
"We were founded in 1901. With that, we have a lot of richness and experience behind us," Hughes said this week. "We also have the most experienced teachers in the district. They want to stay."
That means other community traditions will also stay, she said. The school opens its doors each year to families for movie night, game night and a "jingle jog" right before winter break. Higley will keep its before-school band program and will adopt an after-school tutoring program to help students keep up with the advanced math that will be offered.
The school will also keep its mascot — the hawk — and its colors, gold and black.
"We recognize the fact that in the first year we’re going to have to invest our time in math … but come years two and three, we’ll look at other extracurricular events for students," Hughes said. "I’m getting calls left and right from people wanting information on the traditional academy."
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