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Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

At American Heritage Academy, U.S. values are key

Posted On: 2017-11-14 08:58 AM
From AzCentral.com...


Cara O'Donnell, for Edkey® Inc.

The best career, it's said, is one that doesn't feel like work. If that's the case, Gwena Roberts most certainly chose the right one. Today, as a kindergarten and first grade teacher at American Heritage Academy in Camp Verde, Roberts is still going strong 47 years after first leading a classroom.

"It's never boring. Every day is something new, a challenge," Roberts, 67, said. "Every year is a fresh, new year. New children, new personalities, a new way of doing things."

Roberts is a Verde Valley native. After graduating from Southern Utah State, she began her career in Cedar City, Utah. Not long afterward, she and her husband moved back to Arizona, where she initially taught in Tuba City. But the Verde Valley called her back home.

"I have deep roots in this area," Roberts said. "They go quite a ways back. Family is an extremely important part of my makeup."

The Roberts returned to Camp Verde, and Gwena began teaching at Camp Verde Elementary. She stayed there for decades, only leaving when an attractive opportunity opened in her hometown.

"I felt like teaching was turning into a business and the schools were kind of losing their focus," she said. "They were starting American Heritage Academy at the time and I knew the people who were running it. I went and interviewed. It was a whole new experience for me."

Roberts was attracted to American Heritage's mission: An elementary education rooted in the principles of American values. Today, Verde Valley students can choose from two American Heritage Academy campuses, a K-8 school in Camp Verde, and a K-12 school in Cottonwood.

American Heritage Academy is part of the Edkey® Inc. family of charter schools in Arizona. Each school has its own distinct mission. At American Heritage, it's a foundational principle of leadership and emphasis on American history. Through the liberal arts curriculum, students learn about our Founding Fathers and other important American leaders. That return to basics and fundamental principles inspired Gwena to leave the local public school and start teaching at American Heritage.

"We want to promote American values and teach the principles that our country was built upon," Roberts said. "We want to introduce the students to great music, great people, great American literature."

Now, Roberts teaches a "looping" two-year schedule, where she starts with a kindergarten class and stays with them through the end of their first-grade year. Then she starts with a new group, again in kindergarten.

"Looping is my favorite thing to do," she said. "In the end, it gives you a month more of teaching the class. When you start again in August after summer, you know where every child is. The children know what the rules are. Wherever we left off, we picked right up. "

And after 47 years of teaching – the overwhelming majority of it in the Verde Valley – Roberts has become a bit of a fixture in the area. In fact, she's now teaching generations of families.

"I've had lots of kids in the area, and now I'm teaching their children," she said. "Lots and lots of my students have stayed in the Camp Verde area. A lot of families moved when I moved from the elementary school to the charter school." The hallway outside Roberts' classroom contains class photographs going back four decades. Today's students often can find a picture of their mom or dad on the wall.

Retirement isn't a thought for Roberts. Teaching remains her passion.

"Every year I think about retiring, but then I remember that I'm still having fun," she said. "I don't want to retire and regret it. It's still so much fun. I get up every morning excited to go to work. Monday is my favorite day."

Looking forward, Roberts plans on staying in the Verde Valley. It's where she raised her two sons, who live nearby in the Phoenix area. She has 10 grandchildren, from age 3 to a college freshman.

"I wanted to raise my children here, where I'd know what they were doing before they got home," Roberts said. "Everybody in town knows you. Everybody knows your children."

American Heritage Academy has two campuses in Camp Verde and Cottonwood. For more information on the schools, visit AmericanHeritageAcademy.org.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.

Photos: Photo: Getty Images