Monday, April 27, 2009

The End Has Come

As this semester and my undergraduate experience come to a close, so must Border Smarts.

I hope these weekly posts have allowed you to learn more about the sad state of education in Arizona, and maybe even a little about education (or the lack thereof) on a national level.

This blog has given me the opportunity to explore a subject I care passionately about much more deeply than I would have otherwise. To all future Border Beaters, I think the best advice I could give you is to discover a blog topic that you will not get bored with. One that you will not cringe at the thought of researching even when week 11 rolls around. If there is something you'd like to write about that isn't necessarily border related, try to come at the topic from a border perspective - it can be done.

As a reporter for Border Beat, I have learned much more than I expected to - about border issues, of course, but also about the increasingly important marriage between journalism and multimedia. As a lover of print journalism, being forced to think of news stories not just as blocks of well-written text but as multimedia packages, was often daunting - but always enlightening.

Using slideshow and audio software like Soundslides and Audacity enhanced the reporting on the site, making it a real online publication, and not just a print product available on the web.

If I had to pick the story I'm most proud of from this past semester, it would definitely be the first special project I completed with the help of Alex Garday. Together we created a three-part story about border deaths.

I hope your Border Beat experience allows you to delve into topics you haven't yet, and gives you a chance to become a reporter that can do much more than write.

Best of luck!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ace the AIMS? Forget the Free Ride

Excelling on the AIMS test is one way thousands of students have landed tuition waivers to Arizona's three universities. But that may soon change if the Regents approve a proposal to cut the AIMS scholarship amount in half, while ramping up eligibility requirements, according to the Arizona Republic.

In February, Arizona State University proposed cutting the AIMS scholarship altogether - a move that was later supported by the University of Arizona and partially supported by Northern Arizona University, according to the Arizona Daily Star. That proposal was unaminously rejected by the Regents, who left future cuts or elimination of the scholarship on the table. [Watch the video above for Superintendent Tom Horne's take on the initial proposal]

The scholarship is officially known as the Arizona Board of Regents High Honors Endorsement Tuition Scholarship, and is given to students who score an "exceeds" standards rating on all three portions of the state standardized test - reading, writing and math. According to the Arizona Deptartment of Education, students have until the end of junior year to exceed on all three sections, giving many a reason to retake the exam until that happens.

This new proposal, while not eliminating the scholarship, would reduce the amount awarded to each student to $3,000 a year - only about half of what tuition costs. It would also make only those students who exceeded the AIMS the first time around, as sophomores, eligible for the award - potentially cutting the number of recipients by 65 percent, according to the Arizona Republic. The cuts wouldn't go into effect until 2011, meaning current high school juniors and seniors would be eligible for the scholarship under the old requirements.

More than 5,500 students currently have the scholarship, costing Arizona's three universities about $28 million. That number is expected to jump to $40 million next fall. The cuts, if approved, would reduce each school's estimated costs of $13 million to $4 million.

In the Arizona Daily Star story, ASU President Michael Crow said the continuation of the AIMS scholarship will only pass cuts off to other merit-based scholarships.

"I think we owe it to our stakeholders to be clear that if we avoid this difficult choice, we are forcing other difficult choices," he said. "We are asking for tuition increases and looking at other merit students who would not get scholarships."

"By avoiding a difficult choice, we've simply passed the cost off somewhere else — it will be felt by other kids, other stakeholders."

So I guess the real question is, which kids most deserve to get college paid for? Based on a March 16 article in the New York Times, I think I know what Crow's answer would be.

Arizona State University recruits National Merit Scholars nationwide with a four-year $90,000 scholarship, a package so generous that Arizona State enrolls 600 National Merit Scholars, more than Yale or Stanford, the article said.

I suppose all those hard-working Arizona kids should just be thankful for their $3,000 a year - after all, it's not like they're National Merit Scholars.

Monday, April 13, 2009

St. Andrew's Clinic

For one day each month, St. Andrew's Church in Nogales, Ariz. is transformed into a medical clinic. Children from Mexico are bused across the line for free medical care - the only kind their parents can afford. I met one of those incredible children two weeks ago.

Eduardo Adarga is 9 years old. He can mimic the sounds and movements of any animal you can think of. He gives hugs as freely as he smiles. And if you ask, he might just sing you a song.

Eduardo was born with Down syndrome. For nine months, Eduardo and his mother have made the trip to St. Andrew's. There, Eduardo recieves educational and medical therapy for his hearing, vision and language impairments.

"He has trouble controling his eye movement, and can't see very far," his mother, Adela Valenzuela said in Spanish. When he was little, his poor vision caused him to stumble while walking, she added.

At the clinic, Eduardo was given a new pair of glasses before moving on to his language lesson.

"He speaks at a 2-year-old level," Adela said, in large part because of his hearing problems. In preparation for the lesson, Adela helped Eduardo complete his homework from the month before. It consisted of a packet of worksheets that required him to trace between two bolded lines, creating circles, squares and straight lines. The worksheets are supposed to help him learn to control his pen, and are a step toward writing.

But this lesson will have nothing to do with writing. It is all about giving Eduardo the ability to express himself now, said volunteer Chuck Chapman. Chuck and another volunteer from the Tucson School for the Deaf and Blind began teaching Eduardo Mexican sign language.

He learned the signs for mom, dad, brother and sister, and the signs for some of his favorite foods. Adela believes the signs will help with time.

"He tells me things I can't understand and he gets very frustrated," she said. As he learns more, the frustration will decrease.

If it wasn't for St. Andrew's Clinic, Eduardo wouldn't be getting any additional educational therapy, Adela said. While he goes to a school for children with disabilities, the students there have all different problems, and the teacher can't focus solely on him, she said.

The clinic has helped him, Adela said, and Eduardo will be back next month.