A local non-profit organization is helping schools offer small-group instruction to try to boost students’ achievement and foster community collaboration.

Patrick Masson, assistant director at Arizona Autism Charter School’s Early Learning Center, works with a kindergarten student. The school’s Early Learning Center recently received a grant from the non-profit organization A for Arizona (submitted photo).

A for Arizona recently announced that seven public school districts and charter schools that launched small learning communities will receive Expansion and Innovation Fund grants. These grants will support free, accessible programs that emphasize individual and personalized learning models to tackle inequities caused by mass school closures. A vetting committee of local and national education, philanthropic and industry leaders reviewed the grant applications. The grants will allow the schools to reach nearly 1,000 public school students, offering learning options in Maricopa County and three other counties in the state.

Arizona Autism Charter School, Early Learning Center, in North Central was one of the grant recipients. Grants were worth $40,000 each. Emily Anne Gullickson, founder and CEO of A for Arizona, said Arizona Autism Charter School saw a large waiting list for early learners in grades kindergarten through second in the fall. Gullickson said the campus wanted to develop “an approach for these small learning experiences.”

“They really have created this unique model where children’s therapies are embedded into academic experiences,” she said. “They just really are thoughtful about including medical providers and academic, top, talented teachers into their structure. The student ends up the center of their whole day.”

Gullickson said with the Arizona Autism Charter School’s Early Learning Center the K-2 grade students focus on academics for half the day and therapeutic services including speech therapy and behavioral interventions in the afternoons. They now learn in a dedicated site just for early learners. The school serves students at every level of the autism spectrum, following the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to aid youths in overcoming behavioral and communication deficits.

Other Valley schools and districts that received the grants were CASA Academy and Edison School of Innovation. Elsewhere in Arizona, Crane Elementary School District’s Gowan Science Academy, Patagonia Elementary School District #6’s Patagonia Elementary School, Tanque Verde Unified School District’s Tanque Verde High School and Vail Unified School District also received the grants.

A for Arizona, based at 2801 E. Camelback Road, received a $500,000 grant from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to expand quality educational options for underserved students through small learning communities. It also received $1 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The non-profit provided 18 grants over the summer and then the seven grants recently.

To learn more about A for Arizona, visit aforarizona.org.



  • Colleen Sparks

    A 25-year industry veteran, she's written for a variety of outlets including The Arizona Republic, East Valley Tribune, Money Talks News, and North Central News.