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Ak-Chin gives grant to Maricopa Wells for new laptops
 ksawyer  / 

MARICOPA — Maricopa Wells Middle School is getting some new tech for the new semester, all thanks to a grant it received from the Ak-Chin Indian Community at the end of 2019.

It was the only school in the district to receive such a grant, and the money will fund new Chromebook laptops for all of the approximately 920 students currently at the school, bringing the ratio to one laptop for each student.

“That will enable us to take care of the stuff we have like our state testing, which is all online, which is going to be a huge benefit for our school,” said Maricopa Wells Principal Thad Miller. “Then also the last couple years, the district has implemented online math and language arts curriculums. So that’s just going to make it more accessible for them to use those curriculums on a regular basis. It’s gonna be awesome.”

Desert Wind Middle School will also be able to initiate a 1:1 ratio for laptops in the upcoming year, thanks to four different funding programs including Title I, Title III, 21st Century Grant and capital funding.

School administration and teachers are beginning their pilot program with students at the start of the spring semester, but there will be a trial period where students are taught expectations of how to handle the new and fragile technology.

Students will need to agree to keep their laptops with them at all times while on school grounds, to not loan the laptop to other students, to keep food/beverages away from the laptop and to not deface it in any way — i.e. stickers, markers — among other rules.

The students will also be given protective cases to help stop damage from occurring. At the end of every school day, students will be required to charge the laptops overnight and will not be taking the laptops home.

The online programs that have already been in place will continue, but Miller believes that the students do not need to take the laptops home at the end of the day.

“Yes, there is some work they can do at home but, of course, if they don’t have access, different occasions are made where they can either use hard copies or there are workbooks still accessible,” Miller said. “Just because we’re getting these laptops now doesn’t mean the curriculum is changing. It’s going to be the same curriculum we’ve had the last two years.”

Maricopa Wells, MUSD and Ak-Chin agreed not to name the dollar amount given by Ak-Chin, but MUSD spokeswoman Mishell Terry voiced her thankfulness for the generosity over email.

“The grant is a result of a wonderful partnership shared between the Ak-Chin Community and our schools,” Terry wrote. “Although the new computers provided by the grant will be used exclusively on the Maricopa Wells Middle School campus, a gift of this magnitude impacts the entire district by affording us the opportunity to redistribute existing devices to other campuses so that other students may use them. Technology in the classroom improves student engagement and collaboration, and also makes it easier for teachers to track progress and provide individualized assistance to help students meet their academic goals.”

Drone on the range: Farmers take to the skies to save water and money

MARICOPA – Farmers for decades have used huge machines to plant, grow and harvest their crops, but more and more Arizona farmers today are using tiny, remote-controlled aircraft to boost yields and save water and money.

Kelly Thorp, an agricultural engineer for the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, uses drones to monitor the center’s test fields, taking detailed images of the cotton plants to gauge the condition of the soil and how much water the crop needs.

“They’re a very powerful technology to be able to go out and regularly map fields, giving you regular information from which you can make decisions from,” Thorp said. “If we can make those decisions more accurate, then we know that we are being more efficient in our water use.”

Although irrigated agriculture has been a part of the Sonoran Desert landscape for more than 1,000 years, farming is heavily influenced by seasonal weather patterns. Arizona remains in a two-decade long drought, and climatologists predict the Southwest will continue to get warmer and drier.

The 2019 monsoon was a no-show for most of the state. Late summer storms produced some heavy rainfall, but according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, “dry conditions in July and August continued in September, reversing the long-term drought improvements last quarter after the extremely wet winter and relatively wet spring.”

As a result, long-term drought conditions worsened, officials said, “particularly in the northern two-thirds of the state.”

That presents a constant challenge for farmers. With drones monitoring the amount of water used on their crops, farmers and agriculture engineers positively contribute to the environment and help conserve water – the most valuable resource on the planet.

“It’s an alternative to conventional farming in the sense of using information to guide decisions on input use,” said Pedro Andrade, assistant professor of agriculture at the University of Arizona. After a drone surveys the plants, the data must be analyzed and put into a machine that calculates how much water each plot needs.

Drones, either multirotor or fixed-wing, are used to assess crop conditions and fertilizer needs, predict yield potential, monitor water quality, and detect leaks and pest and disease infestations. They can be equipped with video and still-image cameras, thermal sensors to detect surface temperatures and LIDAR to create field maps in 3-D.

“So what I end up with at the end of all that,” Thorp said after a demonstration, “is essentially a map of my field that is sectioned into smaller areas that can receive different amounts of water.

“I think that drones offer a very promising future for coming up with ways to make our agricultural decision-making more resource efficient.”

Farming is a risky and expensive business, and many farmers don’t yet trust the new technology, said

Paul Brierley, executive director of the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture.

“They need to be convinced that by paying someone another $20 an acre to get this data from a drone,” he said, “it’s actually going to help them produce something that’s better or bigger or safer or whatever the issue is.”

Dozens of companies offer drone farming services, Brierley said, and the technology is evolving quickly.

“I think where we’re at now is they’re kind of trying to prove themselves, so different companies are coming with services, and in many cases they are having to trial it,” he said.

For the past year, Thorp and his team have been testing this technology on his cotton plants, and they’re now looking to expand their research to other crops.

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Lifelong memories stronger than loss for Rams
 Haas  / 


When the players from this year’s Maricopa girls basketball team get together for a 10-year class reunion, chances are they won’t remember Saturday’s score.

They won’t remember how the Rams’ lost to Gilbert Williams Field 55-47 or how they were down by 15 points at one point, or how they rallied late in the fourth quarter to almost pull out a victory.

Instead Saturday’s regular season home game for Maricopa, that opened 5A San Tan region play, will live in the memories of the players for where it was played.

Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix.

“It’s definitely a different feeling, and it’s exciting to play,” Maricopa senior Katherine Gores said. “Even though it’s not our home court, it still felt like we had to defend it.”

Maricopa girls basketball vs. Gilbert Williams Field 1/4/20

The Rams were one of 14 teams playing on the same court, where a day earlier the Phoenix Suns defeated the New York Knicks 120-112 behind Devin Booker’s 38 points.

On Saturday, Booker’s home court gave way to the Rams’ Shakira Gillespie, who had 18 points to lead Maricopa.

“It’s an awesome opportunity, and the girls are very thankful we had this opportunity,” Maricopa coach RaShawn Calvert said. “This is something that we will want to do again next year — being able to be on the court, the locker rooms and just seeing the environment. Just seeing a higher level of basketball is always a positive.”

In order for the team to get the opportunity to play at the arena, they had to sell $2,500 worth of Suns tickets.

Calvert said the team started selling the tickets before the season started and before long, they had the amount needed to play the game.

“If you look at the tickets and people coming to games, I feel like my family alone covered half the costs,” she said. “We’re basketball people. With the Suns actually being competitive this year, it wasn’t hard to sell those tickets.”

Saturday’s event was billed as Hoop It Up at the Arena and was put on by Phoenix Greenway athletic director Jeff Feldman.

Feldman said he started the event 10 years ago with just Greenway and Phoenix Washington. He added that the event has grown and fluctuated in numbers with 27 games being played last year.

“Any school is eligible to play,” he said. “I send the email information to every high school AD and coach and it’s open to both boys and girls.”

Feldman said both teams have to sell the $2,500 worth of Suns tickets and added the schools can invite their cheer squads and pep bands to participate, something Maricopa did Saturday.

As for how the home team is determined, that is up to the schools. In the case of Maricopa, the school gave up its home game with Williams Field in order to play the game at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“If you are the home team, your score person gets to work the scoreboard, your announcer gets to do the announcing,” Feldman said. “It’s your own home game and you can slate it as such. It’s your home game, just in a different venue.”

Although some things remain the same, such as quarter lengths and a team’s offensive plays, there are some challenges to playing in a large NBA arena instead of a high school gymnasium.

Feldman said the biggest change is depth perception.

“There’s no wall,” he said. “Even though you have time to run up, sometimes it takes some teams a little more time to get the depth perception because there’s nothing but seats there instead of a brick wall.”

He added that while some teams struggle with the large cavernous arena with thousands of empty seats, other teams get amped-up for the opportunity to play in such a place.

“I have seen teams come in here, and they are not really good, and they play out of their minds and they win games,” Feldman said.

And then there are the memories that will last a lifetime — retold 20 years from now and lasting longer than the sting of the loss.

“To be able to go out on that court, that’s a once in a lifetime,” Calvert said. “It’s something that not everyone gets to experience. We are thankful to be able to be in a high-level basketball arena. It’s pretty awesome.

“This is something that you are going to remember, being able to play in this arena — being there with your team and the good memories of it.”

Maricopa-Casa Grande highway set to close for widening
 ksawyer  / 

MARICOPA — Maricopa and Casa Grande residents alike are bracing for some major construction along the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway, which runs between the two cities and is the main thoroughfare for commuters.

The construction will begin on Monday and the Arizona Department of Transportation will shut down the segment of highway that runs between Porter and White and Parker roads. A detour, shown on a map released by the city of Maricopa, will be set up along Bowlin Road.

Construction will last approximately 60 days, and although residents are griping about the lengthy blockage, the city is hoping that the widened road will be worth the temporary obstruction and will benefit both cities in years to come.

In his State of the City address delivered in October, Maricopa Mayor Christian Price touted the widening project as one of the big transportation updates coming over the next year. The stretch is only one lane on each side, and there is no left turn lane for those going from the highway to White and Parker, meaning drivers have to remain in the through-traffic lane while waiting to make a turn.

This is the latest phase in the facelift given to the highway over the past year. The highway was also partially shut down near State Route 347 during the construction of the new overpass that now spans above it.