George Washington Academy, Snowflake, AZ


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GWA Principal Benson Wallace dresses in a historical costume for a recent parade in Snowflake, Arizona.
GWA Principal Benson Wallace dresses in a historical costume for a recent parade in Snowflake, Arizona.

History comes alive every day at George Washington Academy

Posted On: 2017-05-09 03:54 PM
From AZCentral.com...


By Kelsey Butler, Edkey Inc.

For George Washington Academy-Snowflake it's imperative to follow in the footsteps of its nation-founding namesake.

It's no surprise then, that the EdKey charter school in Snowflake, Arizona, places patriotic values and shaping students into well-rounded, independent thinkers at the forefront of their student's education.

"We put a big emphasis on patriotism," Principal Benson Wallace said. "I mean, we are George Washington Academy, after all."

A patriotic approach

In addition to implementing red, white and blue uniforms (naturally), organizing an upcoming Fourth of July concert of patriotic songs performed by students, and implementing regular flag ceremonies, Wallace notes that part of the goal of the school is to develop character traits often associated with our founding fathers (more on that later).

"We're a little more conservative in our approach to education," Wallace said. "We really try to emphasize the founders of our country, our history, and [the like]."

Although bringing history to life for its students can prove to be a challenge, GWA, which teaches students from Kindergarten through eighth grade, has a unique approach: allow the children to choose their own paths for exploring the past.

According to Wallace, each quarter the students are required to devise their own personal interest projects, which they work on during the course of the nine-week quarter. Parents are encouraged to get involved to avoid hastily thrown-together projects created last-minute. These projects are meant to fit into a larger theme, often historical, and fulfill research standards in science and social studies.

"First and foremost, it allows students to find something they have an interest in," Wallace said. "[The students] go into more detail and take more ownership on what they're learning."

One recent example applied to sixth graders studying Westward movement in the United States. "The students have to choose something within that theme [to do a project and presentation on]," Wallace said. "Whether it's the types of technology [of the time], or a mountain, or a person or a thing central to that time period."

Another standout group project that Wallace described was Greek mythology-themed via a partnership between the language arts and history classes. Students were instructed to create a report on a key figure in Greek mythology, and then banded together to create a "wax museum" of sorts, each dressing up as a character replete with homemade togas and DIY laurel crowns.

"We had all these different characters, and each of the kids made their own costumes," Wallace said. "It enhances what they're learning and at the same time, they get some of that freedom to choose what they're going to study."

For GWA Parent Advisory Committee President Amber Roberts, these personal interest projects, known as "PIPs," have been a positive experience for her two children who attend the school.

"What I like about the PIPs is that when I think about every college course I've ever taken, you have to do reports and larger projects of some sort," she said. "That's what these projects are, in a sense. The students have to research how to get the report together and present it. Those are skills that you'll use your whole life."

But emphasizing the events of the past isn't the only thing the two-year-old school hopes to do. For GWA, stressing core values like citizenship, trust, and loyalty is also important.

Core characteristics for success

"Every quarter we have a new character trait that is highlighted," Wallace said. "One boy and one girl in each class is [chosen by their teachers] as those who have been the best examples of that trait, and they're given a certificate and honored at a ceremony… We make a big deal of that."

In quarters past, qualities like trustworthiness have been highlighted as a key trait for students to absorb, Wallace said. To build trust between kids, students often practice exercises like trust falls.

"I go to each class and do a character course," he said, pointing out that each one is tailored to the age of the students. For example, this quarter's key trait is loyalty. To explain the concept of loyalty to younger children, Wallace chatted about an example that is very familiar to many kids: Dogs and their capacity for loyalty.

"For the older group, we talked about friendships, since that is what's very important to them now and discussed, ‘How do you know someone is loyal to you?'" Wallace said. "So we've had some group discussion on that." More activities on that character trait are in the works as the quarter progresses, he said.

And those values have a ripple effect that extends far beyond the 165 grade school students enrolled at the GWA, community members say.

Roberts, whose children Victoria, 9, and Gauge, 8, attend GWA, explained that the parent association's role is to organize events that involve both the children and their families.

"My job now is to organize events and fundraisers and to bring families together to spend time together at an affordable rate," Roberts said.

These events have included a movie night ("Holes" was the film of choice), book fairs, a father-daughter dance (a mother-son dance is in the works), holiday parties, and more.

"We have to charge something to make our money back, but we're not in it to make money, we're in it to have fun," she said. "Since it's a little school, it's a very intimate setting. So, we work closely together and show these values. It's good to teach the children how to get along and work together."

Sounds like our founding fathers would approve.

If you're interested in enrolling your child in a school dedicated to patriotism and history, click over to the George Washington Academy website to learn more.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.



Photos: GWA Principal Benson Wallace dresses in a historical costume for a recent parade in Snowflake, Arizona.