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MHS valedictorian the most honored student in school history
 ksawyer  / 

MARICOPA — Freya Abraham didn’t know she’d be making history during her four-year career at Maricopa High School, but the high flier has exceeded even the highest of expectations set for her as she prepares to take her leave.

With her 25 scholarships and awards, Abraham has earned the most local, state and national honors in the school’s 61-year history, becoming their most distinguished scholar to date. The 17-year-old earned many of these accolades based on the extracurricular activities she was involved in, and others through her academic achievements.

One of Abraham’s main focuses in high school was DECA, a nonprofit organization that works with high school and college students to help them become effective leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and business management industries.

“My first memory that would stand out would be the international win sophomore year with DECA. It was very unexpected actually,” Abraham said. “I didn’t actually have that much time to work on my own event, so I was super stressed going in. And so it really felt like, ‘Wow, my hard work has (paid off),’” Abraham said. “It’s a lot of luck that goes into who’s judging you and what they think of you, but that was a real moment.”

Abraham also founded a STEM Club at her school, and after two years of work with the club, she was elected the chief science officer of MHS. She also held positions in the Junior State of America organization including secretary, state fundraising agent and expansion director. In addition, she participated in Link Crew, theater and National Honor Society.

As a result of her hard work and dedication to the aforementioned clubs, Abraham was a four-time state champion of DECA in marketing events, a 2020 ESSA conference presenter in relation to her work with STEM and the recipient of three best speaker awards from JSA, among many others.

Abraham is also currently a semifinalist in the United States Presidential Scholars Program, which recognizes outstanding seniors around the nation. If she earns one of the 121 top spots, she will be awarded a paid trip to Washington D.C. to attend a ceremony at the White House and sightsee around the capital city.

Though it may sound like Abraham didn’t bat an eye while scooping these prizes, Abraham says it was her dedication that pulled her through tough times.

“You have to know what you want, and why you want it. Then you have to be brave enough to go for it,” Abraham said seriously. “You can’t wait for other people to give you permission to go for it.”

Wise words from any graduate, but especially true for Abraham, who said it was a struggle to be from a small town competing with people with different opportunities available to them.

“I think in Maricopa we’re in a unique position, because if you want to go for that next level, and you want to push the limits, you’re gonna do that on your own as a student,” Abraham said. “There’s lots of teachers (and) there’s amazing counselors who are here to encourage you in that dream, but you’re going to have to be the first one to do it.”

Abraham, who has lived in Maricopa since she was 4, is the first graduate of MHS to achieve her level of honors. With scholarships pouring in, Abraham could be selective about her school of choice.

While ASU offered her the ASU Gammage Scholarship and other monetary awards totaling $92,000 and NAU awarded her the Lumberjack full-tuition Scholarship, Abraham chose to become the newest University of Arizona Baird Scholar. She received nearly $150,000 in scholarship money from UA to cover housing, fees and tuition.

These funds, when coupled with her other cash scholarships, will more than pays for her undergraduate degree. Funding is important because Abraham will need to complete ten more years of schooling for her next goal: to become a pediatric neurologist.

She’ll start her next phase by majoring in neuroscience with a minor in public health at UA in the fall.

Though many might point to pressure at home being the push for her greatness, Abraham says her two engineering parents are “pretty chill” about things.

“I’m kind of the only extrovert in the family of introverts,” Abraham said. “It’s really funny because a lot of people feel that my parents are the people who are pushing me or pressuring me in different ways — but they’re pretty chill. All they want for me to do is sleep,” she joked.

Abraham is not the first in her family to reach valedictorian status, her older brother Alfred Abraham also achieved the title at MHS in 2017. Abraham lamented her inability to embarrass her big brother one last time before leaving for college at her graduation ceremony, which will be a drive-thru ceremony.

“I can’t really give him a shout out from the same stage, so I’ll just have to wait to find another opportunity to embarrass him,” Abraham said laughing.

Bernadette Russoniello, career coordinator and senior specialist for MHS, said Abraham left a lasting impression on her.

“I have worked with high schoolers and taught for nearly twenty years, and Freya is a phenomenon,” Russoniello wrote. “Her passion for learning, her search for knowledge and truth, and her drive to not only better herself but to work for the achievement and progress of others truly distinguishes her as a scholar and leader.”

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Maricopa council to decide on complaint Tuesday; city denies favoritism
 ksawyer  / 

MARICOPA — The city of Maricopa has denied any favoritism in its decision-making process for advertising between local media entities as the city council gets ready to decide on the merits of an ethics complaint against Councilwoman Julia Gusse.

The complaint was made by local magazine owner Scott Bartle in April and detailed 10 different alleged violations Gusse made stemming from a 2018 email exchange that cited the successful exertion of influence in advertising as a key issue. Bartle’s private business is InMaricopa, one of two local news outlets in the city, and he claims Gusse has been discriminatory against the company.

“Councilmember Gusse violated at least 10 clauses of the city’s Code of Ethics policy when she willingly, intentionally and unsolicitedly engaged me via email to criticize how I operate my private business. In the process, she successfully accomplished her stated goal of withholding advertising revenue from my company,” Bartle wrote under Description of Facts in the complaint.

PinalCentral requested the financial advertising records from the city to investigate the claims of favoritism lodged in the complaint and found that in Fiscal Year 2020, which will end July 1, the city had paid InMaricopa — which is co-owned by Maricopa Councilman Vincent Manfredi — $24,985.76 as of April 1. In the same period, the city of Maricopa paid PinalCentral and the Maricopa Monitor, owned by Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc., $10,459.84.

This is a difference of about $14,525.92. Expenditures to PinalCentral include legal and public notices that are required to be placed in the newspaper of record.

In 2019, InMaricopa was paid $1,377 by the city for advertising and PinalCentral was paid $230.56. In 2018, the year the email exchange in question occurred, there was no data available for either InMaricopa or PinalCentral. In 2017, the city reported paying InMaricopa $23,772.12 and PinalCentral $18,460.40.

In fact, in every year for the past five years in which data was available, InMaricopa was paid significantly more for advertising with the city.

When asked how advertising decisions are made, city spokeswoman Ellen Buddington said it is up to the current city manager and staff to make advertising decisions.

“Decisions on types of advertising are determined by assigned staff and are generally based on the target population, the medium typically used by the target population, and a value-to-cost evaluation,” Buddington wrote in an email. “It is incumbent upon the city to expend funds that have the highest rate of return. The city will take a business approach to the wise and prudent use of taxpayer funds based on the criteria listed above. Decisions are not based on favoritism or equality spending.”

The council is preparing to discuss and possibly take action at the May 19 regular meeting to determine if Gusse violated the city Code of Ethics by “successfully accomplish(ing) her stated goal of withholding advertising revenue” from InMaricopa, as stated in Bartle’s complaint.

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Reopened Maricopa barber shop adjusts to new normal

MARICOPA — Joe’s: A Barber Shop is back open for business after just over a month of being shuttered. With stay-at-home orders expiring for beauty businesses earlier this month, owner and lead barber of the shop, Joe Templin, opened up for appointments May 8.

Templin said the reason for reopening right away was simple: His staff needed their livelihood. He’d always planned to reopen, it was just a matter of when the state allowed him to.

“Well just like everybody else, we’ve got to eat too,” Templin said. “I’ve got five other barbers who work here who have families to feed themselves. Not reopening was never in the cards. We were always going to reopen. It’s just under what parameters.”

Joe’s is operating at half-capacity, which is about 17 people in the shop at one time. But Templin says they hardly even reach that number, with five to six barbers and one customer for each, maybe a couple more waiting, they average about 13-14 people at a given time.

As per guidelines from the state, the shop is refraining from taking walk-ins — a usual staple for customers entering his shop. Templin is also offering disposable medical masks to all of his customers as part of the regulations for reopening, and is encouraging his clients to bring their own when possible.

“People are used to being able to walk in and get in within a certain amount of time (and) that’s not going to happen anymore, unfortunately,” Templin said. “But I think most people are aware that there are going to be changes so we haven’t really ruffled any feathers too much.”

Despite the changes, the shop has rarely been this busy.

“(We’re) way busier, we’re probably booking a week in advance right now,” Templin said. “Most people haven’t had haircuts in a month. … I’d say the majority, probably about 90% of their haircuts are pretty wild and wooly.”

As he spoke, Templin greeted a local police officer and regular customer entering his shop for a haircut. The shop is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday for appointments only.

Templin stressed that the barbers try their best to maintain a clean and orderly shop, and even had customer, upon entering, remark how clean it smelled inside. The effort is in an attempt to ease the anxiety of customers who may be fearful about entering public spaces during a pandemic.

“I think all barbershops and all salons are this way — we’re all just trying to meet people where they’re at and where they’re comfortable. Some people are really concerned about this virus, other people are a little more lax about it,” Templin said. “We just want to make sure people feel safe and secure when they come in.”

Templin’s neighbor House of Gentry has also reopened. An owner of the business, Sharon Gentry, said the salon is already booked a couple weeks out and is still getting calls for appointments.

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Maricopa high schools to host drive-thru graduation ceremonies
 ksawyer  / 

MARICOPA — As schools remain closed for the year, graduating seniors are preparing to take part in a number of alternative ceremonies in the coming weeks.

Both Maricopa High School and Sequoia Pathway Academy are offering a drive-thru or drive-in ceremony for their seniors this week to honor their accomplishments.

The festivities for Maricopa High School will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday on the Maricopa Unified School District YouTube page where two videos paying tribute to seniors and delivering messages from the principal, valedictorian and salutatorian are scheduled to upload.

Then at 10:30 a.m., seniors will arrive at MHS, where a drive-thru ceremony will take place in the bus lane of the school. Students will arrive in groups based on last name, staggered every half hour to avoid crowds and traffic.

Diplomas will be given to students through car windows, and all involved are encouraged to follow social distancing rules.

“Students and families should remain in their vehicle for pick-up,” MUSD spokeswoman Mishell Terry wrote. “Students are encouraged to wear their cap and gown as we will have the MHS banner/backdrop available in the student parking lot if families choose to stop quickly (observing social distancing) for pictures.”

Special discounts and offers have also been given to graduating MHS seniors by local businesses to honor their dedication to education.

Sequoia Pathway Academy is also offering a drive-in style ceremony. Students will arrive in cars with immediate family and be treated to a ceremony in the parking lot. The graduation is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Last week, Sequoia Pathway executed Operation: Puma Drop, a fun day of hand-delivering yard signs to the top 10% of graduating seniors while making a video to show at graduation.