Mesa, Gilbert students embrace Arizona’s newest diploma - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Mesa, Gilbert students embrace Arizona’s newest diploma

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Michelle Reese covers education for the Tribune and blogs about motherhood and family issues at Contact her at

Michelle Reese covered education for the Tribune, also blogging about motherhood and family issues at

Posted: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 2:46 pm | Updated: 3:34 pm, Tue Aug 20, 2013.

Take note, Arizona high school students: There’s a new diploma in town.

Beginning this year, a handful of district Arizona high schools – including one each in Gilbert and Mesa – are offering a STEM Grand Canyon Diploma. With it, students not only take more rigorous classes (like English and world history with a college kick), they get to focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – better placing them on future career paths.

Lawmakers created the Grand Canyon Diploma a few years ago with the Move on When Ready legislation. The idea is to allow high school students to prove their college-readiness through tough international testing – most often the Cambridge curriculum and tests – rather than through seat time in a class. Students who pass the tests have the option to graduate with a Grand Canyon Diploma as soon as spring of their sophomore years or to continue in their schools and take college-level or career classes.

Some East Valley schools have already adopted the Grand Canyon Diploma philosophy. Yuma’s entire school district is operating on the plan.

The STEM Grand Canyon Diploma was approved just a few months ago. Mesa’s Red Mountain High School and Gilbert’s Highland High School have their first groups of high school freshmen taking classes now.

In Mesa, 24 students have elected to take part at Red Mountain. The students take English, algebra, world history and biology (all at Cambridge or Advanced Placement levels) together as a group. They’re also enrolled in a foreign language and physical education.

As sophomores, they’ll take brief calculus and an advanced chemistry/physics class, in addition to their English, foreign language and other classes.

During their summers, they’ll be involved in STEM workshops, online health classes and job shadowing and internships. The junior and senior years will bring additional science, math and engineering courses, as well as college-level English, government and history.

The students at the Mesa school come from down the street – neighboring junior high schools, as well as the Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies – and from across town.

Fourteen-year-old Alyssa Kelly said she learned about the STEM program from on article and was intrigued enough to leave her group of friends in Gilbert to attend school in Mesa. She said she missed the science and math classes that sparked her interest during her elementary school’s gifted program.

“In junior high there really wasn’t that opportunity, so I was really excited to get back into the program,” she said.

This plan fits with her goal is to attain a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from Washington State University.

Like Alyssa, several students in Red Mountain’s program have their sights on careers already. Cole Jackson, also 14, hopes to attend Michigan Tech to study civil engineering.

“It’s not that it’s difficult,” he said of the STEM courses and Grand Canyon Diploma, “It’s just a different style. It’s more practical where you’ll learn something for a lifetime.”

Alyssa agreed.

“It’s not just ‘Memorize this and you’ll get through high school.’ They’re teaching us stuff that will help us in our future careers,” she said.

Catherine McDaniel, the Red Mountain assistant principal assigned to work with this group of students, said she’s impressed with them already.

Not only have they faced the challenge of being freshmen in high school and the “new students on campus,” they’ve embraced the tough academic program.

“They’ve tackled it with the openness of knowing, ‘This will help me with my future,’” she said.

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