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‘Day to Remember’

SUBMITTED PHOTO Teachers and staff members of Phoenix Elementary School, during a Jan. 19 meeting, learn about a special “Day to Remember” celebration honoring them for their efforts the past couple of years.
Phoenix Elementary staff relish staff appreciation event

A celebratory event meant to honor educators and staff at Phoenix Elementary School for their hard work over the course of a turbulent two years didn’t disappoint, according to Principal Shawna Schleif.

The “Day to Remember” Feb. 25 was “the most epic teacher appreciation event the valley has ever seen,” said special education teacher Kerri Brooks, with music, games, competition, food and drinks, laughter, dancing, creativity, tears and bubbling excitement.

“As educators, oftentimes, we are in control of our own fun — if we want a fun event we have to plan it,” Schleif said. “To have somebody allow us to just show up and not be in charge and just be well taken care of and well supported, it was amazing.”

Last January, Venafi — a technology company with an eye toward philanthropy — funded all the equipment and materials in the sensory room at Phoenix Elementary School, giving Brooks’ students the life-changing “tools they need to learn to self-regulate and manage emotions,” Brooks said in a social media post Saturday.

Brooks’ willingness to engage with Venafi as the company looked for places to help after the fires led to a “beautiful array of cascading events that supported our school over and over,” Schleif said.

Brooks joined Phoenix Elementary at the beginning of the school’s self-contained special education program three years ago, leading a “thoughtful program that meets the needs of these highly individualized students” and emphasizing inclusion as a way to help students find a sense of belonging as the program evolves, Schleif said.

“(Brooks is) somebody who always goes above and beyond, she’s somebody who is a learner at heart and she’s somebody who just always is thinking of how best to serve others,” Schleif said.

A video about Brooks’ experience during and after the Labor Day 2020 fires that displaced about 30% of Phoenix-Talent School District families and destroyed the homes of about 5% of staff, exemplified Brooks’ inspirational energy and passion for students, according to Geoff Rhodes, Director of Fun for Venafi.

A year after Brooks received the items on her classroom wish list, a second check-in revealed that what the staff truly needed was a break.

“There’s not often times where we’re recognized and rewarded in this kind of way,” Schleif said. “When you think about what Phoenix Elementary School specifically has gone through for the last two years, it has been a real grind.”

On Jan. 19, Rhodes announced that the Phoenix Civic Center was reserved for a “Day to Remember” celebration for the entire staff Feb. 25, to recognize their hard work throughout two years of unprecedented circumstances.

“We know you have been through a lot over these last two years, and we just want to say thank you for giving back to your local community,” Rhodes said.

During the event, games included a “healthy mix” of competition, team building, laughter and all-around fun, Schleif said.

“(Rhodes) talked about how what he likes to do is create an experience for people so that it’s something that they’ll remember for a really long time, and he didn’t fail to deliver,” Schleif said.

About 100 people — all but a handful of the school’s 54 staff members and plus-ones — attended the event, which led to Monday reflections such as “I’m still riding the bliss of Friday night” and gratitude for much-needed time to let loose together in a social setting, Schleif said.

Staff members walked away from raffles with $250 to $1,000 in classroom giveaways, she said. The biggest prize went to an instructional assistant in Brooks’ classroom.

“We’ll find creative ways to make sure that every penny that’s been gifted to us has a positive impact on students,” Schleif said.

After navigating changing iterations of distance learning, fires, student transportation issues and one challenge after another, “this couldn’t have come at a better time,” she said.

“People get into education because they love serving families and kids and helping people grow,” Schleif said. “Oftentimes we do that to the detriment of our own self care, so this was just a really rejuvenating experience where somebody was taking care of us.”