Liberty Arts Academy wants to help kids love school
September 7, 2017
By Melody Birkett
When you’re walking the hallways at Liberty Arts Academy, it looks similar to many schools. What sets this Title 1 charter school apart from others is the focus on art and devotion to making school a happy place to be.
“Everything we do is revolving around art in our core classes to our special areas,” said Brady Wald, Liberty Arts Academy principal and school leader. He has worked in the educational field for 17 years.
“So our kids have their core classes: language, arts, math, science and social studies. In addition, every child has two P.E.s, two arts, two musics, a library and a computer every week.” Each class is a half-hour long.
“In addition, our middle-schoolers, every Friday, have electives like no-bake cooking, debate,” Wald added. “We have the before and after school clubs and programs.”
The school implements its BARK to Excellence philosophy, which stands for brave, attentive, responsible and kind.
“So we really work on those four characteristics each and every day, teaching our students expectations and what it means to be BARK to excellence,” Wald said. “It’s literally the game plan and foundation of our school.”
The school is also big on forming partnerships with businesses.
For example, bank representatives come in to teach students about saving money and budgeting. Those in the dental field teach kids about taking care of their teeth. Recently, the Arizona Diamondbacks donated 1,000 tickets so entire families could go and enjoy a game. Wald is also connecting with Arizona State University to create a mentorship program.
In addition, students learn and participate in various art concepts such as “drawing, color schemes, blending colors, painting on canvas, painting on paper, watercolors,” said Wald. “I mean, it’s endless. It’s bringing the creative side out of all of our students. It’s getting kids to be innovative and creative and getting them excited about art,” something Wald said is very important.
Basically, Wald said, the school is focused on keeping up with evolving education. It follows a curriculum by the Arizona College Inquiry Ready Standards.
One way the school is evolving and trying to meet the needs of students is with a sensory movement reflection room. So they don’t have to leave the classroom, the teacher calls Wald, who takes the child to the room. He said it’s not looked upon as a negative by students but rather a positive experience.
“We provide them with beanbag chairs, rocking chairs, stability balls, fidget cubes, squeeze balls,” said Wald. “Kids might need additional movement. Kids might need additional sensory. So, what we do at Liberty is we provide them that sensory opportunity. We put them on a 10-minute timer. They can pick two or three different activities, and kids will be able to get that movement, get the wiggles out, get the fidgets out, and be able to go back into class and be engaged in class again.”
Another thing you don’t find at every school is Liberty’s no-homework policy.
“What we are doing is we’re trying to promote family as well as that whole child experience,” Wald said. “So when students get done with school, we want them to participate in piano, in baseball, in soccer, in gymnastics, extracurricular activities. We want our kids to be actively playing.”
Wald cites research that shows kids need active play to stimulate the brain and promote growth and achievement.
“So, all we ask our families is to read with your kids at least 20 minutes a night,” he added. “Be a family. It’s not homework. It’s practice. We want kids to develop a love for school and we want them to develop a love for reading.”
Without that balance, according to Wald, kids can get too stressed.
“We want our kids to be stress-free. We want them to have a love for school, not to hate school because of homework because they’re tired from the night before. Family is incredibly important and balance is incredibly important.”
Liberty Arts Academy is a Title 1 school, meaning the school receives federal funds to meet the educational goals of certain students including low-income and at-risk students and kids with limited English proficiency.
“The kids who qualify for Title 1 are typically the kids who are struggling in a certain area,” said Grace Sharp, Title 1 reading paraprofessional. She works with students in grades 4-8. “I take a small group at a time or maybe work one-on-one,” said Sharp. She said she tries not to work with more than five kids at a time.
The job is challenging, but Sharp enjoys it and hopes she can have a positive impact on kids.
“So the ones who hate school, I want to help them love school,” said Sharp. “For the ones who hate reading, I want them to love reading.”
Wald said it’s about providing students with the right tools and strategies to help get results.
“It’s a great place to be,” Wald said. “We really are a team. I believe in the motto that ‘Together, everyone achieves more.’ You’re only as strong as your weakest link and it’s important that all of us – including our parents, our staff members, our community our business partners – are working together for the best interest of our kids.”
Liberty Arts Academy: 3015 S. Power Road, Mesa, 480-830-3444 or libertyartsacademy.com.