By Shay Moser
The Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) encompasses approximately 367 square miles and serves Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria, Anthem, New River, Cave Creek, and unincorporated areas of Maricopa County. Whether families and students are looking for traditional education, gifted programs, language immersion, or online options, DVUSD offers a variety of learning opportunities.
Bellair Traditional Academy
Bellair Traditional Academy uses a traditional approach to education and emphasizes a bond between teachers, parents, and students for learner success. “The rigor of the traditional curriculum, Saxon Math, and Spalding method help our students grow and succeed in the classroom,” explains Bellair Principal Christine Fitzsimmons. “Regardless of where a student starts at the beginning of the year, they grow exponentially by the end of the school year.”
High behavior standards, high levels of citizenship and patriotism, uniforms, and social-emotional learning foster the school’s virtues of integrity, distinction, and responsibility in a secure and encouraging atmosphere.
The Gifted Academy at Las Brisas Elementary
At the Las Brisas Gifted Academy, which opened in 2022, all students learn specialized instructional strategies from trained teachers daily, regardless of their gifted identification.
“Gifted instructional strategies benefit most learners,” says Las Brisas Elementary School Principal Mara Kurasch. “Las Brisas brings those instructional practices into classrooms for all students to benefit.”
The only school in the Deer Valley Unified School District that offers a full continuum of gifted and talented services, all students can access various services, including math acceleration, pull-out enrichment, and gifted homeroom placement. They also have access to STEAM, PE, music, and art through special-area rotations.
The Gifted Academy begins with the Las Brisas Bright Beginnings Program, serving gifted students from preschool through second grade. Second graders are re-assessed at the end of the year to determine what gifted programming they qualify for in third grade and beyond.
Third through sixth-grade students who qualify can enroll in the Renaissance Highly Gifted and Global Studies Program. Global cultures and languages are the focus of this self-contained program. “Gifted education is so much more than just making students teacher aides or giving them extra work,” says Jeneil Killman, gifted specialist at Las Brisas. “We need a place for these students to grow, learn, engage, and be encouraged to reach their potential no matter the setting.”
DVUSD’s Language Immersion Programs
In the District’s Language Immersion Programs, students receive instruction for half their day in English and the other half in Mandarin or Spanish, depending in which program they’re enrolled. Three DVUSD K-8 schools offer this model. Gavilan Peak and Desert Sage provide Mandarin, beginning in kindergarten and first grade, and Union Park offers Spanish. Gavilan Peak is Arizona’s oldest and longest continually running Mandarin immersion program. These schools also have traditional kindergarten pathways.
Hillcrest Middle School has Mandarin instruction for up to 50% of students’ school day. Boulder Creek and Sandra Day O’Connor High School students can take advanced modern world language courses, of which Mandarin is one.
“Bilingualism is a powerful skill that enhances cognitive abilities and opens doors to numerous career opportunities in today’s globalized world,” says Juliet Ma, Kindergarten Mandarin immersion teacher at Gavilan Peak.
Students in these programs recently won state and national language competitions, including first place, third place, and honorable mention in the national Chinese speech contest. In a statewide speech competition, students won first, second, and third place in the high school division. In the elementary division, students won second and third place.
“It gives me great pride to witness the growth of my kindergarten students preparing and participating in Mandarin speech contests,” says Ma.
Like the Mandarin immersion program, the Spanish immersion program at DVUSD’s Union Park School gives students a half day in English for reading, writing, and social studies and the other half in Spanish language arts, math, and science.
“My favorite part of teaching Spanish to our youngest students is the opportunity to provide the introduction and connection to other parts of our world,” says Jennifer Olson, kindergarten Spanish immersion teacher at Union Park.
Whether students are in the Mandarin or Spanish immersion program, the teachers meet their unique way of learning and capabilities.
“Our kindergarten vision on both sides of the program incorporates a variety of teaching strategies to accommodate different learning styles and abilities,” says Laura Tapp, kindergarten English teacher at Galivan Peak.
Aspire, Deer Valley’s Online Academy
At Deer Valley’s fully accredited online school for kindergarten through 12th-grade students, launched at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, kids can access an e-learning environment. Since 2007, DVUSD has offered online support to high school students.
“Online education provides students with an opportunity to engage in a flexible learning environment that meets the needs of their family,” says DVUSD’s Director for Online and Virtual Learning Juliet Amara.
Aspire offers full- and part-time high school students advanced placement courses, dual enrollment, career and technical education internships, and clubs.
“We continue to grow as a school by offering high-rigor, post-secondary opportunities such as dual-credit courses in collaboration with Rio Salado,” says Amara.
Kindergarten through sixth-grade students participate in teacher-led, virtual instruction in real time. Seventh and eighth graders learn using a combination of teacher-led instruction and district-aligned curriculum. Ninth through 12th-grade students learn through a district-aligned curriculum, with open lab access to teachers during virtual and in-person office hours.
Besides traditional course offerings, the school offers elementary students music, art, physical education, and technology. Middle schoolers benefit from a variety of electives and exploratory classes.
“It’s very exciting to watch our students thrive in an online learning environment,” says Dr. Laura Victor, Aspire’s kindergarten through sixth-grade principal.
Learn more about DVUSD and its educational opportunities at dvusd.org.
This content is sponsored by DVUSD.