Dreams from across the street

Mansfeld Middle School opened in 1929, located just a few steps away from the University of Arizona. (Photo by: Tyler McDowell-Blanken/Arizona Sonora News)
Mansfeld Middle School opened in 1929, located just a few steps away from the University of Arizona. (Photo by: Tyler McDowell-Blanken/Arizona Sonora News)

Students can see their future from the window in Ms. May-Garcia’s health office.

Mansfeld Middle School, located across the street from the University of Arizona, is home to students with dreams of attending college no matter any potential financial obstacles.

Title I schools represent nearly 60 percent of the approximately 2,000 schools in Arizona. In Pima County alone, 198 schools have Title I status, meaning that the school resides in a statistically low-income area.

According to the No Child Left Behind Act, Title I “provides financial assistance to local educational agencies to meet the needs of special educationally disadvantaged children at preschool, elementary and secondary school levels.”

16 of the top 20 schools, exactly 80%, on this year’s “Best High Schools in Arizona” list from U.S. News and World Report have Title I status. The report uses the criteria of student-teacher ratio, college readiness and proficiency in the subjects of math and reading to rank the schools.

BASIS Scottsdale and BASIS Tucson North rank one and two respectively on this year’s list, both non-Title I schools. The Scottsdale location ranks second nationally while Tucson North rounds out the top five. Both are charter schools, and their students post a 100 percent proficiency rating in math and reading.

Although these schools make up a significant portion of all schools in Arizona, they rank low on the recent “Best High Schools in Arizona” list from U.S. News and World Report. The report uses the criteria of student-teacher ratio, college readiness and proficiency in the subjects of math and reading to rank the schools.

BASIS Scottsdale and BASIS Tucson North rank one and two respectively on this year’s list. The Scottsdale location ranks second nationally while Tucson North rounds out the top five. Both are charter schools, and their students post a 100 percent proficiency in math and reading.

“The further you get from the foothills, the further that drops,” said Eric Brown, a mentor specialist at Mansfeld.

He is not at all dismissive of the accomplishments that schools in some of these higher income areas have achieved. Instead, he spends his 7:30-3:50 workdays helping students who may not be receiving the same emotional or financial support as their peers from more privileged areas.

“When you come home to no food on the table or no mom or dad … it makes things tougher. The ultimate goal each day is to touch each one of them. I’m here to help them succeed,” Brown said.

Eric Brown, a Tucson native, grew up in a single-parent home. After attending Catalina Magnet High School and receiving his mom's support, he attended historically black college Alabama State University on a baseball scholarship. (Photo by: Tyler McDowell-Blanken/Arizona Sonora News)
Eric Brown, a Tucson native, grew up in a single-parent home. After attending Catalina Magnet High School and receiving his mom’s support, he attended historically black college Alabama State University on a baseball scholarship. (Photo by: Tyler McDowell-Blanken/Arizona Sonora News)

Brown, one of 18 staff members at Tucson Unified School District’s African American Student Services, joined the school at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year. He said he enjoys working with the students at Mansfeld because he sees himself in them.

A black Dallas Cowboys banner rests on the wall to the left of his office desk; sports have defined Brown’s life since his youth. However, he wants students to pursue various career paths. Brown fully supports his students who want to become the next LeBron James or Brittney Griner, but he wants them to see all of the options they have.

“Our kids don’t get to see that. We don’t get to see the businessmen, lawyers, or doctors,” he said.

“Even a small amount can provide additional support to students,” said Nancy Konitzer, deputy associate superintendent and Title I director for the Arizona Department of Education.

Arizona receives $325 million annually in Title I funding. Census data is used to determine which districts receive support from the Department of Education. The districts must then allocate the money to the schools displaying need.

“The resources that those funds provide are critical to those students because of these struggles,” Konitzer said. “I think you’ll find success stories.”

Carolyn Mosconi, a community representative at Mansfeld, has been at the school since 2007 after working at local Fort Lowell-Townsend K-8. That school closed following the 2013-14 school year due to a massive budget cut by TUSD.

She began a career in education after spending 15 years owning a catering business, Catering by Carolyn. Mosconi did not know exactly what the future would hold. She took a chance because of her passion for kids.

Lots of them. With lots of dreams. Facing just as many challenges.

“I knew nothing about what it entailed,” Mosconi said.

She did some research, made some phone calls, and a few inquisitive Google searches later, the definition of a “community representative” seemed much clearer.

Mosconi described her responsibility — “You’re supposed to make sure that a student’s day is successful by making sure they have the necessities,” she explained.

Those can include necessities that some might overlook: Clothes. Shoes. Eyeglasses. Food.

Mosconi has an office in Mansfeld’s library, where she meets with students throughout the day to check in on classes and offer other support services. She will even drive students home who need a ride on occasion.

“It’s made me grow as a person,” Mosconi said.

She recalls one trip when she took a few students to a restaurant. The trip was about more than just pizza and french fries; Mosconi wanted to expose her students to the experience of being served a meal and ordering your food, uttering numerous pleases and thank yous.

Mosconi wakes up every day with purpose. She enjoys her job but does not lose sight of the bigger picture.

“You should do things that make you happy,” she said. “I know that I can’t change the world completely but I want to try.”

List:

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/arizona/rankings?int=9bc108

Report Cards:

https://www.azreportcards.org/#

Tyler McDowell-Blanken is a reporter at Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at tjm5@email.arizona.edu or follow him on Twitter: @tylerjmcdowell

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