MLFTC students awarded scholarships for dedication, service


Jennifer Priest Mitchell

Cassandra Graffious and Sarah Schaffran, both iTeachAZ students in ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, were each awarded a $10,000 scholarship by the Pendergast District Community Foundation. They were selected as scholarship recipients for their leadership skills, dedication and service to the students they teach.

The Pendergast Elementary School District currently has 20 iTeachAZ teacher candidates working in its schools. According to Heather Villarruel, ASU's iTeachAZ coordinator for the district, "iTeachAZ is an extremely rigorous program that requires teacher candidates to spend their entire senior year student teaching under the guidance of trained mentors. Students also attend university courses and receive teacher evaluations." Both scholarship winners have compelling stories and are dedicated to the teaching profession and their students.

Graffious was inspired to study teaching by the powerful influence of her own high school teachers. "When I was in high school, I had a hard time and I was not really on the best road, but there were two teachers who made a real difference in my life," she said. "Ever since that time, I've been fascinated by teaching. In college, I realized the difference those two teachers really made in my life. They believed in me. I felt like even when the rest of the world did not believe in me, they still did. They pushed me."

"So now I am teaching in a first grade setting and I absolutely love it," Graffious said. "In 10 years, I see myself teaching at a Title I school. I want to teach kids from all demographic groups. I want to show them they're all capable of success no matter what life throws your way."

Schaffran decided to pursue a teaching career after working in a classroom herself. She said, "When I was growing up, I thought of many different careers, but I didn't really consider teaching until I volunteered in my mother-in-law's fourth grade classroom. That made me want to work there. I became a paraprofessional in the Avondale School District and worked with a boy who started kindergarten in a wheelchair. I loved talking with him about sports and encouraging him. By the end of my second year there, he could walk without a wheelchair; he only used one crutch. That made me want to become a teacher."

She enjoys working in an elementary school. She said, "I gravitate toward the younger grades and hope to work in a classroom with little children. When I work in these Title I schools, I understand what it's like to come to school without something simple like a pencil because your family doesn't have them and can't buy them. I understand if they come to school tired because there is so much going on at home. And I understand how to help and encourage them."

Roger Juarez, president of the Pendergast Community Foundation, said, "Well-prepared teachers are a good investment. The iTeachAZ teacher preparation program strives to increase the effectiveness and longevity of educators and we are proud to invest in these future educators."