CASA GRANDE — Kind. Beautiful. Friendly.
These were words used to describe Quirina “Nina” Martinez, one of two teenagers killed on May 10 in a car accident near Maricopa.
The 15-year-old was close to wrapping up her school year at Vista Grande High School when a car she was traveling in crashed near White and Parker Road.
Jenna Lattea, a 16-year-old student, also was killed in the rollover crash.
Vista Grande opened up its auditorium on Saturday to Nina’s friends and family for a memorial service where mourners had a chance to share memories of the teenager.
“She had such a big heart,” said Flor Rodriguez of Victory Outreach Church in Casa Grande.
She recalled meeting Nina at church and was struck by her maturity and generosity.
“She spoke with so much confidence for a young girl,” Rodriguez added.
The youngest of five children, she was described by older siblings as an artist, a jokester, a confidant — the connective tissue that united the family.
“She’s my everything,” said Augreo Martinez, her brother, who was affectionately called “Nay Nay” by his little sister. Nina has been sending them little signs this past week, her brother said, to let them know she’s all right.
There were stories of her spending her allowance on her friends, putting laxatives in her sister’s drink and eating lots of hot Cheetos.
Despite the fact it was a day of sadness, Nina’s siblings encouraged mourners to keep smiling and advised the student’s classmates not to forget her as they continue through high school.
CASA GRANDE -- A new art show at Casa Grande Municipal Airport aims to send imaginations soaring.
With hundreds of paper airplanes and clouds — made by area children and seniors — suspended from the ceiling, along with a display of artwork by more than a dozen area artists, the new “Plane Air” art show is a celebration of all things aeronautical.
“Our hope is that this project brings positive awareness of the airport,” said area artist Lisa Swanson, a member of the Art @ the Airport Committee, a coalition of artists and others who have come together to display aeronautical theme art at the Casa Grande Municipal Airport.
The group unveils its first show to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the airport terminal, 3225 N. Lear Ave. The show coincides with the monthly fly-in that often attracts visiting planes and pilots.
The show is free to attend. An optional breakfast is available for purchase from 7 to 10 a.m.
More than 40 pieces of art are featured in the show, including a mobile with a colorful trio of hot air balloons made from tin cans and created by artist Cindy Patterson.
Patterson is known for making colorful, whimsical flowers from tin cans but for the art show, she decided to branch out to create a tin can item that fit the aeronautical theme.
“I thought it would be different and fun to create a hot air balloon from tin cans for the show,” she said. “This show has art from almost every medium.”
Other items on display in the show include photographs, drawings and paintings of planes, pilots and other aeronautical topics as well as textiles, jewelry, glass and other types of art, all keeping with the airport theme.
Artists with works in the show represent the Casa Grande Art Association, its Life Drawing Group and Casa Grande Urban Sketchers.
“We’ve had art on display at the airport for at least four or five years and while the art has always represented the artist community, it’s never been focused on aviation,” said Airport Manager David Reffner. “This group made it happen.”
The Art @ the Airport Committee includes Swanson, Patterson, Susan Shivers and Ellen Koehn.
Much of the artwork will be displayed on moveable flat panels in the airport terminal. The works will be complemented by about 300 paper airplanes, paper clouds and hot air balloons suspended from the ceiling to look as though they are floating.
The paper airplanes were made by children and area senior citizens in various programs including the Opportunity Tree, Kachina Apartments, Seeds of Hope, Barca Soccer Academy and the Vista Grande Library Makerspace program.
During the art show, visitors can become part of the show by making their own paper airplane. Supplies will be provided at a booth during the show.
“The paper airplanes made that day will be added to the paper plane art installation,” Swanson said.
The show is family-friendly and open to all.
Reffner said he’s excited for people to see the show and to get to know the airport.
“When people walk through the terminal door, they don’t always realize that this is a public space. People are allowed to be here,” he said. “We have a restaurant in here that people love to visit. With the art show, we hope more people come in and discover this space.”
MESA — A cacophony of voices speaking in Spanish, interspersed with laughter, fills a classroom at Rhodes Junior High School. Some students speak halting English, but on occasion they attempt to translate for students who don’t speak any.
As the students try to type short paragraphs describing a time when they experienced conflicting emotions, several use Google to translate phrases or entire sentences. The students later upload those paragraphs to their blogs.
Amethyst Hinton Sainz, the teacher, stands near her desk helping two students retrieve their login credentials.
“Buscar a, buscan, buscen … como se dice?” she asked, conjugating the verb “to look” in Spanish.
“Buscen,” some of her students replied.
“Buscen a edublogs in your Gmail,” she told them.
Arizona has had a difficult history with providing adequate education for English-as-a-second-language learners, which led to a lawsuit against the state in 1992. A law passed in 2006 required every school district to provide a four-hour model of Structured English Immersion for students who are classified as ESL learners. Critics say the program segregates students who do not speak English as their native language from students who do.
The reclassification rate of students who became proficient in English last year was about 15 percent, according to the Arizona Department of Education. In fact, students who have tested to become “reclassified fluent English proficient” have not exceeded 31 percent since 2011, according to the department.
In February, however, Gov. Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1014, which reduces the number of required hours ESL students must be taught and gives school districts flexibility to craft their own research-based models. Advocates say this will help students and improve scores on AZELLA, a test used to measure proficiency in English.
‘Virtual if not complete segregation’
Rhodes Junior High, near Baseline and Dobson roads, doesn’t have a “set” bell schedule. Students attend what’s called advisory periods at the beginning and end of the day, where they might receive mentoring and individual work time.
Wednesdays at Rhodes is “social emotional learning day.” There are schoolwide celebrations, the students have more “independent learning time,” and clubs meet during school hours.
But Hinton Sainz’s students, who are intermediate- and introduction-level ESL, didn’t often get to participate in the fun because of the required four structured hours of reading, writing, vocabulary and conversation, and grammar. With only so many hours in a day, it was impossible for students to be in the Structured English Immersion program and fit in math, physical education and other classes required for graduation.
Some ESL students haven’t had science or social studies all year, Hinton Sainz said. Her students were stuck in the four hour block, unable to attend other classes.
This sort of rigid model results in “virtual if not complete segregation,” she said.
“Without building a rich tapestry of background knowledge, English learners will fall behind in areas other than English and will lack the conceptual knowledge on which to hang their language,” she said at a January hearing at the Legislature for SB 1014.
A failed system
Advocates say the low reclassification rates are the product of a failed system. Stefan Swiat, a public information officer with the state Department of Education, said the four-hour block has hindered the academic success of ESL students.
Data for 2014 and 2015 were not available, Swiat said, because the state took a hiatus on the A-F School Accountability System, which gives letter grades to schools based on their achievement. Because the program wasn’t in effect, the data for reclassification rates was not included in its mandatory reporting.
In 2016, the federal Office for Civil Rights told the department it was releasing students from English-language programs too early for them to achieve proficiency on other required assessments.
“So they tightened the screws on us and said that we had to beef up AZELLA … and basically keep students there longer and create more rigor for them so they can perform better and achieve proficiency on AzMERIT,” he said, explaining why test scores dropped.
With the new law, Swiat has high hopes.
“I would not be surprised whatsoever if we see reclassification increase even more after this legislation,” he said. “Being around people and interacting is the fastest way to actually improve your language skills. And that was being withheld from them. … So with that removed, I think you’re going to see a huge step forward for those students.”
New legislation to help EL students
SB 1014, introduced by Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, reduces the required hours of Structured English Immersion from four hours to two hours for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and to one hour and 40 minutes for students in grades 6 through 12.
This allows school districts to submit their own “research-based” Structured English Immersion models to the State Board of Education, which will have to create a framework to evaluate those models, for approval. The law also got rid of the one-year limit.
Boyer, an English teacher, said in a hearing that the Legislature does not dictate curriculum or how teachers should teach, but laws for teaching English were too stringent.
Hinton Sainz, who testified in committee, said that her students deserve to be integrated into the school as “social equals lacking only in language,” adding “they do not deserve to be shut off from the vast majority of seventh and eighth grade curriculum and community.”
At the hearing, Stacey Morley, government affairs director for Stand for Children Arizona, said SB 1014 was the culmination of a journey that began a few years ago in the Roosevelt School District, where a group of parents were frustrated their children were “segregated,” not reclassifying.
Morley said this bill provides flexibility to school districts to innovate.
She added that on average, students spend seven years classified as an ESL student.
“We are not throwing the baby out with the bath water. But we want to see what’s working and what we’re spending our money on and really allow local teachers and educators to make decisions for their students,” Morley said.
What comes next?
Hinton Sainz says she wants two full-time ESL teachers for seventh and eighth grade. Dividing it up by grade level would simplify the current process of communicating between the different teams, she said, adding that she would like a separate period dedicated for new students to help them learn the basics before moving on through the program.
But funding is difficult, and it comes down to what Mesa Public Schools can justify in the budget.
“People go walking through the school and they see a class of seven or eight (ESL students) and they see another class of 40, it just doesn’t look like you’re allocating resources very wisely,” she said.
For the junior high level, the programs will need to be a minimum of 100 minutes, but Hinton Sainz worries resources for EL students might be cut because the requirement has been lowered. She said Rhodes is not heading in that direction, but she can see it happening at other schools.
“I just really hope districts realize that if they are worried about the achievement of their kids, and all kids, then you still need to support the kids one way or another,” she said.
Next year will act as a transition period where the schools will develop the program to submit to the State Board of Education. And despite the process ahead, Hinton Sainz said she sees a lot of potential with the new flexibility.
“I don’t have probably all the expertise of different possibilities for types of programs we could have that other people might have. So, I’m looking for resources — think outside the box,” she said.