Back to School!

by Staff Reports

You can’t wait for summer … Then you can’t wait for school to begin! Each season in our family lives bring different things to do and special opportunities. Whether you’re in school or not, there is always something to learn.

Arizona allows a rich canvas of school choice opportunities. With approximately 2,134 public schools (that includes district and charter) the choices can be overwhelming. Options include:

  • district schools
  • charter schools
  • online schools
  • private schools
  • home schooling

There is also the Empowerment Scholarship Account program (ESA): An account similar to a checking account that provides 90% of the state funding that would have been received by the school the child would attend by default.

These ESA funds may be used for tuition at a private school, online education, tutoring services, curriculum and more. Eligibility may be limited.

District Schools:

  • Free public schools for K-12 students, taxpayer funded, but may charge a variety of fees (books, sports, etc.).
  • Based on a specific geographical area with defined boundaries.
  • School boards are made up of locally elected representatives.
  • Typically offer the widest variety of extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs.
  • Since Arizona is an open enrollment state, families can send their child to any public school — depending on classroom availability.

Charter Schools:

  • Free, public schools for K-12 students, taxpayer funded, but may charge fees (books, sports, activities, etc.).
  • Innovative, but still held accountable for student achievement.
  • Often based on a particular educational focus.
  • Most charter schools are not part of a district.
  • Since Arizona is an open enrollment state, families can send their child to any public school — depending on classroom availability, but many charter schools have waitlists.

Online Schools:

  • Some are private, some are free public schools.
  • Curriculum is based on online resources.
  • Can vary from computer-assisted learning platforms to virtual classrooms.
  • Currently, there are about 40 approved online school programs available in Arizona.


  • Defined as a “school conducted primarily by the parent, guardian or other person who has custody of the child for instruction provided in the child’s home,” according to
  • Parents must file an Affidavit of Intent to Home School along with a birth certificate.
  • Offers a lot of flexibility — i.e. the ability to travel, set own schedule, learn at individual pace
  • By law, homeschooled students may participate in interscholastic activities (i.e. sports) within their geographical district.
  • Homeschooled students are eligible for college and university scholarships.

Private Schools:

  • Funded privately through tuition and scholarships (check out School Tuition Organizations, aka STOs).
  • Some tax credits may be applied.
  • The Empowerment Scholarship Account program may also be used under certain circumstances.
  • Can be religious in nature.

Arizona wants your students to receive a world class, 21st century education. From public school options to private and homeschooling options, Arizona offers more school choice opportunities than almost any other state.


Getting Your Child into a Routine

Knowing what to expect helps make adjusting to the start of the school year easier. Here are some things you’ll want to do before the first day of school:

Ease into going-to-bed and getting-up routines about a week or so in advance. Do a dry run of getting up, having breakfast and leaving for school or the bus.

Do a school tour and locate:

  • classroom
  • bathrooms
  • nurse
  • office
  • buses
  • cafeteria
  • school library
  • counselor office
  • gym (and athletic office for high school students)
  • lockers (practice the combination, too!)

Meet the people:

  • teacher(s) and how to pronounce their name
  • nurse
  • principal

Schedules and Policies

Check out your school’s website or get a copy of the schedule, calendar and policy handbook. Be sure to understand the tardy and absentee policies.

And you’ll want to know the dress code before you go shopping for school clothes.

Contact information:

Print out copies of your contact information and give it to the teacher(s), office and nurse. Be sure to include:

  • your work and cellphones (and text number)
  • email address
  • other family contact information
  • doctor information
  • babysitter information
  • emergency health information (i.e. allergies to peanut butter or a special health condition)

Bonus hint: Save this information on your computer — it’s also handy to print out for babysitters or overnight stays with friends and family.

Healthy Lunch Ideas

School lunches aren’t what they used to be when you’d toss a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (on white bread) with a bag of chips and a cookie into a brown paper bag and call it good. Nowadays, school lunches are practically works of art with healthy items neatly arranged in compartment boxes.

The good news is that if you have the items prepared, your child can easily assemble their own lunches. Don’t forget napkins.

Here are some quick ideas — basically, think finger food:

  • roll-up sandwiches, cut into pieces — use wraps, tortillas or lettuce
  • sandwiches on healthy bread cut into shapes (use metal cookie cutters)
  • crackers
  • wedges of meat and cheese
  • rolled-up lunchmeat and cheese slices
  • hard boiled eggs
  • apple slices
  • grapes
  • strawberries and other berries
  • cherries
  • raisins and other dried fruit
  • oranges
  • kiwi
  • cherry tomatoes
  • cucumber slices or wedges
  • baby carrots or carrot sticks
  • celery stuffed with cheese or peanut butter
  • nuts