A quick survey will reveal that, among local schools, Oak Creek School is the one that causes the most consternation: Beyond not knowing its name, many locals seem unaware that a K-8 public school exists in Cornville.
However, OCS Principal Christine Griffin and Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Superintendent Barbara U’Ren are putting in the hours to make sure the school receives greater recognition. As Griffin — whom U’Ren called a “dynamo” — revealed, hurdles existed from the beginning, but the Cornville-area community stepped up its support immediately.
“When I took the job, OCS was operating at about 50 percent capacity,” Griffin said. “I had hoped that the parents and community members would support a vision of developing a STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics] focused school in order to provide an opportunity of school choice for families. That first year we conducted surveys, held meetings with stakeholders and took a general pulse to see if the interest was there. It was pretty unanimous: The community completely supported OCS’ vision of becoming a STEAM school.
“OCS is situated adjacent to state land and is centrally located between Cottonwood, Camp Verde and Sedona,” Griffin added. “Total enrollment at OCS is 246 students, preschool through eighth grade. The school is within walking distance to Oak Creek and in close proximity to the fish hatchery, local vineyards and ranchers, making it a prime location for creating an agriculture science class for all students.”
Agriculture is indeed a big deal for OCS, mirroring the heritage and heart of Cornville and its environs. After being hired in 2013, Griffin retained a certified career and technology teacher “who specializes in agriculture and has developed curriculum where students learn from project-based experiences and real world applications” in an outdoor lab.
In addition, OCS is working in collaboration with University of Arizona’s agriculture science program at V Bar V Ranch, a research center located in Rimrock and operated by the university to address environmental, wildlife and domestic livestock issues applicable to Arizona and the Southwest.
“U of A’s extension program coordinator works with our agricultural science teacher, taking students into the field in order to conduct grassland studies, climatology and make ecological observations,” Griffin said. “Grants fund partnerships with the Verde Natural Resource Conservation and the National Parks’ natural resource coordinator. Our goal is to give students opportunities, experiences and exposure to many of the careers offered here in the Verde Valley like forestry technician, natural resource director, rangeland scientist, viticulturist and civil engineers.”
According to U’Ren, the timing of the relationship between OCS and U of A was “perfect, as U of A was doing work with the V Bar V Ranch in range land management and this was a great opportunity to work building a pathway for college and careers during the critical years when children start forming career interest, introducing them to the wonderful and complex world” of agricultural science.
“I believe they were impressed that here was an elementary school wonderfully located in a rich agricultural environment and one that actually hired a certified agricultural teacher — you find that in high schools but not elementary.”
Recently, U’Ren added, OCS worked with both Yavapai College and U of A on a grant “to create a curriculum unique to an elementary school,” but it ultimately did not go through. U’Ren said that though Yavapai College has an interest in helping in any way that it can, she does not believe the college has “a strong agricultural program presence” in the Verde Valley.
The relationship between elementary schools and post-secondary educational facilities is important, as Griffin knows. She is currently working with Yavapai College and the Verde Valley SciTech committee, meeting monthly to plan a series of fairs, workshops, exhibitions, tours and expos celebrating science, technology, engineering and math throughout the year.
“Predictors for student success in college and careers can be measured as early as kindergarten and correlates with third-grade reading proficiency,” Griffin explained. “We want to pave a road for future success and that begins as early as preschool for our students. Helping students connect early to post-secondary institutions will improve outcomes for all students. They learn the necessary behaviors, skills and other characteristics for future academic and workplace success.
“Oak Creek students feed into Mingus Union High School’s Future Farmers of America program, Yavapai Junior College Viticulture program, and U of A’s Agi-Science Program, which all provide exposure to future employment opportunities.”
With state school funding constantly under threat, Griffin said that students are lucky to have access to “environmental resources” so close at hand. The creek, state land and room for an outdoor lab provide many opportunities for problem-based lessons.
|COCSD in a Nutshell
According to COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren, “The governing board has always envisioned COCSD being a district of opportunities. We are very proud of all of our schools and the options that they provide. Our district also has an Arizona College Career Ready Standards program that all middle school students participate in to help with their transition to high school and beyond.
“Verde Valley school districts and superintendents work very hard to provide programs that give all children exceptional opportunities with exceptionally well-trained caring teachers in which children can grow and learn.”