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Fiesta Bowl Charities grants wishes for GPS teachers

Alena Zurick sits at her desk inside Greenfield Junior High School in Gilbert, Arizona.

On the campus of Greenfield Junior High School, a classroom is being transformed into a sensory space for students with special needs. The goal is to provide the students a safe area to incorporate movement and sensory activities into their day. Alena Zurick, a Greenfield Junior teacher and speech-language pathologist, is playing a huge role in the development of this room. Zurick is one of 400 Arizona teachers this year to receive a $2,500 grant from the Desert Financial Fiesta Bowl Charities’ Wishes for Teachers program. She’s using all of the money to help buy sensory materials.

“I just think this is one more opportunity that we have to benefit and better our campus for some of the students that attend,” she said.

Zurick learned about the grant program through an email and decided to apply. A Virtual Draft Day event took place shortly after and Zurick was selected. She says it is important to have the community supporting our schools.

“I think it is just everybody coming together and being willing to help for the greater good of the students in their own community and society,” she said.

According to research, sensory activities are extremely beneficial for students with special needs or disabilities. The activities help enhance their development while also providing a therapeutic experience. As a result, these students can improve their cognitive abilities, physical skills, emotional development, communication, social skills, and sense of self. Zurick will be looking for items like tactiles, bean bags, yoga balls, and more.

“It can be something so small that you can put in the hand and fidget with, or it can be something bigger that students can manipulate or go inside,” she said.

More than a dozen Gilbert Public Schools teachers received grant money from the Wishes for Teachers program this year. Zurick believes that speaks volumes about the commitment GPS teachers have to their students. 

“I think it shows that we are great advocates for our students. It shows that we are resourceful, and we’re really trying to do the best for our students,” she said.

Zurick encourages more teachers to apply for the grant program in the future even if they don’t have a specific need for the money in their classroom. She says identify at least one need on your school’s campus. 

“We say we are the Grizzly family, so it’s like helping a family member out. Even if you feel like you don’t have a need, I think it is still important to consider a need on your campus,” she said.

Since 2016, the Wishes for Teachers program has been granting classroom wishes across the state of Arizona. The program has donated more than $3.7 million to Arizona teachers. Recipients of the grants become part of the Fiesta Bowl family and get to participate in community events like walking in the Fiesta Bowl parade and being recognized during a halftime show. 

Congratulations to our Gilbert Public Schools teachers who received a grant this year. Thank you for your commitment to our students, schools, and GPS family!

Heather Alfrey, Patterson Elementary

Tracy Bertlesman, Campo Verde High School

William Blevins, Campo Verde High School

Jenni Feidler-Aguilar, Gilbert Elementary & Mesquite Elementary

Mike Harvey, Highland High School

Louise Heeman, Gilbert Elementary

Deborah Johnston, Settler’s Point Elementary

Lynn Jorgensen, Gilbert High School

Peggy Lewis, Mesquite Elementary

Mary Love, Oak Tree Elementary

Maria Thurman, Gilbert Elementary

Jennifer Waymack, Carol Rae Ranch Elementary

Alena Zurick, Greenfield Junior High

Written by Kailey Latham