The Neighborhood and Community:
The immediate neighborhood around Frank Elementary is sort of run down, compared to the areas surrounding it. The area that can be seen from the school and the road that everyone sees when they are going to enter the school, looks very old and not kept up. There is almost nothing within a quarter mile of the school that looks particularly welcoming. The school is located on Priest Dr. between Baseline and Guadalupe and the road that leads to it is very small and causes a lot of traffic, but it is very safe because of the reduced speed and limited number of lanes. The businesses that are around it are all very close to each other and are mostly Hispanic markets and food shops and auto shops, and they themselves are very old and are in okay shape but still look a little run down in comparison to other businesses in the area. The school is surrounded by houses on almost all sides, with some Tribe land with properties that block the school from the main road, and these are fenced off but make the school look not that welcoming. There is not a lot that goes on in the area, most of the noise that is around the school is from the traffic. The cars that are in the area tend to be older, just like the houses that can be seen from the school grounds and the road that I take when I get there. From looking at the houses that are in the area compared to the houses that are further away but still included in the boundary are worth a lot less ($60,000 vs $400,000) and there are a lot of properties in the area that are currently up for auction.
A large number of the students are from the immediate area and about an equal amount of them walk (⅓), take the bus (⅓), and are dropped off/picked up by car (⅓). They are almost always being dropped off/picked up by parents or guardians, and all of these students are observed by teachers as they are leaving the school. Teachers that help with car pick-ups and monitor who each student is going with and know what their cars and parents look like. There are a lot of students that come from broken homes or have something in their personal lives that they are dealing with when they go to school, such as having a parent in jail, being adopted recently because of a family issue, and other things that they can’t really discuss. They also come from different levels of household income, and this can be seen from who drops them off (the kind of car they drive, whether they need to walk, when they get to the school, etc.) and how they are dressed. There is one student that I see every time I go to the school and it appears that he only owns one or two pairs of pants that are in the school dress code, and one of them has a very large rip in it, causing him to have to wear some sort of leggings or other pants underneath to cover up. There are students that get dropped off and picked up by parents in very nice cars, and they are always dressed sharply. These are just some of the extremes that I have observed, most students appear to be of similar incomes and situations.
Boundary and Population Stats:
Most of the children and residents of the area are of hispanic, African American, and Native American descent. From seeing the students, talking to my mentor teacher, and from online research, the student body is 99% minority, with hispanic and Native American making up the majority. The school is right in the middle of a Native American community, and some of the surrounding area is owned by that tribe, so there are some centers for the Native American school located near the school. The area owned by the tribe is not kept well, and the school can’t do anything about it. There is a large hispanic community as well, and these communities have a clear divide, in their events and land. This doesn’t really affect the students and how they interact with each other, everyone generally gets along well. In an area that offers boundary exceptions, here are very few parents that want their children to go to this school, and will often try to go to other schools because of the area that it is in. The boundary is very weird, to me, because the school is located so close to one border and spreads out, which is one reason I think that parents choose to send their children elsewhere.
School Programs and Resources:
The school offers free breakfast to every student, whether or not they are on free or reduced lunch, because it is their belief that students that eat breakfast are more likely to succeed. That being said, 99% (2017) of the students are part of the free or reduced lunch plans (free, reduced $0.40, full $2.50), meaning that their family income is low enough for them to qualify. There are some students that bring their own lunches, or their own snacks to have with their lunch, but the majority of students get their lunches from the school.
The school has its own website as part of the Tempe Elementary District No3 district website, and there are only a few teachers that have their own websites, including the general music teacher.
The school’s halls are all very welcoming and full of school spirit, displaying their motto of: Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be a Scholar! and the students class projects. Each classroom has its own bulletin board that they can put things on. Throughout the halls there are a lot of positive signs and banners for different colleges and universities (I think this is to motivate students). The first room that students and visitors see when they go through the office is the library, and on my way to the music room I see boards full of student achievements and a cardboard cutout of a superhero that students can stand in. The administration almost always says the motto when they sign off from announcements.
In the middle of the school there is a large amphitheater area where they have assemblies once a month to recognize students and their teachers for their excellence. They are always stressing excellence in their students and trying to make sure that the students know that they have high expectations for them. Recently some teachers coordinated with my mentor teacher to write a school fight/spirit song for their groundbreaking ceremony for the new school and they had every student learn it, and they still sing it at different occasions like the assemblies. The school’s administration and teachers are always encouraging the students to be a part of the Frank community, and to get along well with each other, which is one reason they have theses assemblies.
At lunch, though, the students all sit in a single row, all facing the same direction, so their only interaction at this time is with those next to them, and my mentor teacher explained to me that this is the best way they have for getting the students to focus on eating and to keep the noise down a bit. They get the chance to play together at recess, but a lot of the times they play in small groups. The teachers have tried to implement games for everyone to play together and announce it before each grade is dismissed to recess, but a lot of the time it is hard for the students to stay focused in the games and they leave to do some independent play (or small groups). On Fridays the school has Jamba Juice come and sell small smoothies for $3 as a treat, and there are a lot of students that are always excited to buy some, even when it is cold outside.
The school is surrounded by gates and there are some security cameras in the halls so that they can keep an eye out and keep everyone safe, but the cameras are a bit old and are a bit limited in what they can do. The administration and other members of the staff walk around the halls sometimes, and monitor the students at recess, but the students are often alone in the halls when they are going to the restroom or they take the bathroom pass and walk around the halls themselves.
The district has a handbook for the students and families, for them to know the rules and resources of the district, and the Frank students have to have their parents sign and return a page to know that they understand it. It is available in English and Spanish. The school has a dress code (uniform is certain solid-colored polo shirts and no jean pants) to minimize distraction for the students, and are fairly strict in enforcing it, but they have some alternative dress days and on Fridays they are allowed to wear school themed clothes. After the AZMerit testing they gave out some alternate dress days as a reward.
The school is going to be rebuilt over the next few years, in the same area to keep the same address, but they are getting all new buildings and parking lot and once the new school is build the old building (built in 1929) will be torn down. The administration is keeping the parents and community updated as they are going through different phases.
The Music Room:
Frank is a Title I school, so there is a lot of funding for the extracurricular activities like band, orchestra, choir, general music, and other music clubs. There are a lot of Orff instruments that are all grouped together that the students love, there are a lot of African drums, and recorders that are available to the students. There are also a lot of music symbols and puzzles on the boards that the students get to do and are quizzed on, and the teacher uses the SMART board a lot when they are learning songs to have the lyrics displayed. On each wall there is something to help them with their puzzles, like the note names and how many counts each rhythm gets, dynamics and tempos, and solfege and hand signs.. She also has a board with different levels as a reward-type system where a student gets to put their teacher’s star on a 1, 2, 3, 4 with 4 being the highest for their behavior.
The students all have their assigned spots on a rainbow rug with squares in it, and they are very good about sitting in their own spots so that they are facing front and are paying attention. The school also has a lot of guitars that don’t get used (there is no longer a guitar club), but the teacher recently bought 4 keyboards to have a keyboard club 2 days a week for an hour before school to get some students playing and reading a staff. She also has a 4th grade choir that comes in before school sometimes to get them ready to join choir in 5th grade. The students know that there are a lot of other instruments like various hand percussion that are put away in the cabinets that they look forward to for different activities.
Mrs. Fletcher knows every student, and is close with them in some way. They always say hi to her and are excited when they see her in the hallways. She develops a relationship with every class and student. When they ask questions about her life or share something about themselves, she responds appropriately, and has pictures of some of her family up so that they can understand when she talks about them. She tries to never yell/get frustrated when there are students that don’t follow directions, or when a class is being a little rowdy. In each class they start with “keep the beat” and a each class a new student gets to be the leader and they always clap for them, and at the end of each class they have the “best row” from the rug and the student congratulate them on their good behavior. Most of this is from a point system that she has for completing the puzzles and paying attention, and it is a classroom management strategy that she has implemented.
Each grade level tends to have their own curriculum, that she picks based on what they might be doing in class, goals she has for them, things she thinks they might like, and school events that are going on with a theme that she has songs to. They do a lot of singing, as a goal of hers is to have them singing correctly (using their singing voices not their speaking/yelling voices, using their head voice, matching pitch, etc.) and make sure that they have fun by adding motions. They tend to respond well to the songs that she gives them, even though they are not all a part of their culture. Some of them are fun or educational in some way, but even when there are country songs they still sing; almost all of the student body is of hispanic or Native American descent, but from what I can see they love music class and don’t ask for their own cultural songs. She doesn’t have any composers or cultural things around the room, just the music posters and some pictures of her family around her desk.