Arrupe Project Changes Lives

Bryanne, Kaitlyn, friend and family join in deliver of adaptive PE equipment.

In 2015 Kaitlyn Lauck, a 7th grader at St. Francis Xavier, raised several hundred dollars to purchase school supplies to support Gompers K-12 special education classrooms. She was personally moved by Gompers mission when she came to deliver the items as students greeted her with open arms and open hearts. Fortunately for us, this year she decided to support Gompers again. Now with more experience and even more passion and understanding about the students with disabilities she was working to serve, Kaitlyn raised over $800 by selling tacos. They must have been some really tasty tacos!

Kaitlyn Lauck showing adaptive PE equipmentWith the money raised from her fundraiser, Kaitlyn thoughtfully asked us if there was something the school needed more than just the regular supplies like paper, and pencils. She was just in time! We were trying to find funding for adaptive PE equipment for our students and Kaitlyn graciously offered to fulfill our request for equipment like beanbags, basketballs, softballs and hoola-hoops. Having these items makes a huge difference for our students as we work with them to maintain their health and well-being through an adaptive physical fitness program.

Based upon Catholic Social Teaching, and the Corporal Works of Mercy, the goal of the Arrupe Project is to empower students to become men and women for others through faith, service, and justice. Seventh and eighth grade students at St. Francis Xavier participate in the Arrupe Project, which challenges them to research issues that affect their community. Through this project, students “pay it forward” by becoming personally engaged in their response to social injustice. During their religion class, students research local organizations that are actively engaged in ending inequality.

Students begin their project by earning $10, which is then matched by the school through grants. These start-up funds are used by the students in their fundraising efforts, which range from selling small homemade items at the Arrupe Marketplace (7th grade), to creative student-organized fundraisers (8th grade). As their Arrupe Projects conclude, students use their funds to purchase items needed by the organization, then personally deliver those items.

Through Kaitlyn’s generosity, students in Gompers K-12 special education program are able to participate in a fun, active, physical fitness program. Our deepest thanks to this remarkable, caring and talented teenager and to St. Francis Xavier for teaching students to impact their community for the benefit of others.

Gompers students examine the new adaptive PE equipment



Learning while visiting Arabian Show Barn

by Becky Gurnick, Gompers Private School (GPS) Director of Special Education

Providing GPS special needs students opportunities to experience new situations is important to their education and life-skills training.

Tony Diaz with horseRecently, professional trainer Tony Diaz of Special Arabian Training Center invited GPS to tour his Arabian show barn. The trip allowed the students to experience the benefits of community integration while supporting their social, academic, sensory and therapeutic needs.

Our students, teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and speech therapist spent two and half hours learning about the horses. They toured the barn, learned the difference between males and females, quarter horses and Arabians, and the horse terms associated with identifying a stallion, mare, filly, gelding, colt and foal.

The most exciting part of the morning was riding Coco, a beautiful Arabian horse. Coco is owned by one of our teachers for the hearing impaired from Phoenix Union School District. She was kind enough to give permission for everyone who wanted a ride to get one! After touring the open barn area, the Nate, Tony Diaz and Becky Gurnickstudents moved over to the round pen (small round area used to train horses), where the students were led around on Coco. Using a mounting block, the students stepped up on the mounting block, lifted their left foot into the stirrup, swung their right leg over the back of the horse and sat down into the saddle. With their feet tucked in the stirrup, holding one hand on the pommel and the other on the reins, they rode around with the biggest smiles you have ever seen.  It was amazing to see their eyes light up! Their faces beaming with excitement and at every turn the students communicated the shear enjoyment of being on top of the world.

The excitement continued with a hands-on opportunity to meet little foal, Angel, who is only a month old. Tony brought out both mom and baby to see the GPS gang. It was so fun watching mom Student touching a month old foalromp around with her baby dancing alongside; her long, lanky legs kicking up and down like a little puppet dancing around with her head in the air and heels toward the sky. The joy of watching the students laugh and giggle at this tiny foal dancing about was just priceless. Tony with his arm around Angel and momma horse by his side, allowed each student time to feel Angel’s little nose and soft, furry ears. One student even tried to kiss little Angel on the nose!

Following the mom and baby show, Tony brought out the show stallions. Their heads in the air, tails swishing, feet prancing, with glimmering coats in the sunlight, these beauties put on an amazing show for the students. Listening to every command, the stallions jumped about, arching their backs and striking a pose with every cue. This one-of-a-kind opportunity is typically only seen at the famous Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.

This was truly a wonderful experience for everyone!  A big thank you goes to Tony Diaz and the Arabian Training Center for making this a one of a kind show for our GPS gang!

GPS students and staff watch an Arabian perform


Thunderbird Charities provide Gompers with a decade of support

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TBCharities-4CThunderbird Charities is a cornerstone of support throughout greater Phoenix communities. Contributing to many deserving organizations they truly make a difference in the lives of children and families across the valley.


We are blessed to be the recipient of their support for nearly a decade. Over the last ten years, Thunderbird Charitiesteacher working with student
had given nearly $212K to Gompers in an effort to support the empowerment of individuals with disabilities. Their impact on the lives of our students and members has been significant. From funding our sensory room, where students and members have the opportunity actively engage in learning techniques that regulate their behaviors by stimulating their nervous system, to resurfacing our indoor basketball court where our “Special Olympians” learn about the importance of physical fitness, competition and teamwork, Thunderbird Charities has been on the forefront of ensuring that these integral opportunities remain in forward motion.  In addition, their contribution to the building of the infrastructure of our assistive technology program has given our students and members an opportunity to perform tasks that were once beyond their scope of reality.


Thunderbirds Charities m003ost recent generous contribution to our K-12 special education school funded improvements in equipment, teaching materials, innovative curriculum and training to ensure our students will receive individualized and innovative support through a structured educational environment. Students are maximizing their abilities and developing important  life skills leading to their successful transition to adulthood.


For many, the Thunderbirds have helped turn dreams into reality. Here at Gompers, we provide a space that emphasizes growth and development, that values each person’s abilities, and that guides individuals to reach their true potential, treating all who come through our doors with the dignity and respect they deserve. We are so grateful to Thunderbird Charities for supporting us in these endeavors.

Leading our AT program

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Mrs. Candice M. Steel, B.S. SLP-L, AT Specialist

Gompers Assistive Technology Specialist Candice SteelRecently, Candice Steel joined our team as Gompers AT Specialist and her experience is greatly benefiting our students, members and staff. Assistive technology includes items, piece of equipment or products that are used to increase, maintain or improve the capabilities of an individual with disabilities.

Mrs. Steel received her Bachelor of Science in Speech/Hearing Sciences from Arizona State University in 2003. She began her studies in Music and Speech/Hearing Sciences at The University of Arizona and has taken graduate level course work through Northern Arizona University’s Interdisciplinary Program for Assistive Technology.

Mrs. Steel brings 11 years of experience in Speech-Language Pathology plus four years of field work with mild to severe/profound developmental disabilities in private, charter and public schools. Her expertise has afforded Mrs. Steel opportunities to collaborate on developing and implementing inclusive service delivery models focusing on the importance of life skills curriculum for K-8 self-contained students. Mrs. Steel has received training in various aspects of assistive technology, speech/language techniques, behavior analysis/management and leadership. Assistive Technology has been an integral part of her approach to learning and using functional communication since the start of her career; “it’s the key that unlocks the smallest of possibilities for someone.”

Mrs. Steel is married, has a son, two dogs, a cat and a fish.  She enjoys getting outdoors, nutrition and spending time with family and friends.

Visit our Website to learn more about how AT is benefiting students in our school program, or members in our Day Training program.

Leading school takes experience

Becky S. Gurnick, M.Ed.

Director of Special Education Becky Gurnick

The 2015-16 school year opened with new leadership as Becky Gurnick, Director of Special Education brought her passion for students and families to Gompers.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Mrs. Gurnick attended Arizona State University, University of Phoenix and Northern Arizona University earning a bachelor of science in business management, and a Masters in Special Education, and a Masters in principal leadership.

Her professional experience has provided her with a unique set of skills to lead students and staff. As a dedicated professional, child advocate, teacher, and administrator, she has served students and their families for over 16 years; as a certified special education teacher for children with multiple disabilities, mild to severe intellectual disabilities, and children with Autism. Her training in the field of behavior analysis allows her to implement interventions and strategies to create a positive learning environment for all students. In addition, Mrs. Gurnick has a history of working with diverse populations in both the public and private sectors that have prepared her to lead and support public and private school education.

Her life has been blessed with a patient, loving husband, four sons, a daughter and three beautiful grandchildren. She resides in the foothills north of Phoenix where her family enjoys hiking the Maricopa trail with their crazy Jack Russell Terriers and riding their trusty steeds.

You can learn more about our K-12 Special Education School by visiting

Learning through evidenced-based practices

Thunderbirds Charities generous support for Gompers programs has been extraordinary. Now topping nearly $212K since 2004, Thunderbirds Charities have helped fund our multisensory room, contributed to our capital campaigns, resurfaced our indoor basketball court and helped build the physical infrastructure for our assistive technology (AT) program. When Gompers Private School recently identified the need to update our K-12 classrooms and increase staff training in technology, the Thunderbirds once again offered their support.

Special Education Director Becky Gurnick, M.Ed. recently shared the foundation for her educational philosophy and the basis for the grant request, “Educating special needs students to reach their highest potential requires not only an individualized, multi-faceted educational approach, it also requires a well-trained staff, teaching in a highly structured classroom environment and utilizing evidence-based curriculum.” She went on to say, “The 2015 funding from Thunderbirds Charities provides the essential partnership that makes this possible.”

Four essential pillars define Gompers Private School, an Arizona Department of Education certified K-12 special education school:

  1. Curriculum – Each student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) is generated specifically to support the learner with goals to increase academics and life skills. Our school utilizes Unique Learning System and News 2 You, curriculums which are both aligned with common core standards using evidenced-based practices. These curriculums provide opportunities for all ages and levels of functioning to experience learning by using a differentiated learning strategy. In addition, our classrooms are structured to support a variety of behaviors by using a teaching model that supports Positive Behavior Interventions (PBI), and allow the students to develop independent functioning.
  2. Assistive Technology (AT) – The need and use of AT are assessed through a collaborative process of integrating and implementing various assistive technologies using evidence-based strategies to support a student’s access to individualized curriculum across all contexts.
  3. Community-based instruction – Through exposure to a wide variety of activities out in the community, students are able to practice and apply learned educational strategies in real-life situations. In these often unfamiliar environments, multisensory activities provide opportunity to increase receptive and expressive communication skills as well. Each activity provides an opportunity to gain knowledge through self-discovery and building new social skill sets. Gompers large fleet of available, accessible transportation supports this important education experience. As our programs grow, we intend to add a variety of therapies including aquatics, equine therapy, community kitchens and the science museum.
  4. Transition – A transition-based secondary curriculum, combined with Gompers adult programs, ensures students are prepared for life beyond school. Special areas of instruction include career readiness, social relationships, environmental control and daily living skills. Instruction encourages greater independence and empowers the student to become more vested in their own transition into adulthood. Many of our high school students are participating in tasks that will provide them a foundation to take on multiple job duties.

Executive Director Mark Jacoby recently applauded the Thunderbirds for their significant support which has directly resulted in better programs and services for the individuals we serve. He also noted their momentous impact in bettering lives throughout our larger Valley-wide community. “Thunderbirds Charities’ dedication to improving the lives of individuals and families is clearly evident through the good work they do,” Jacoby said. “Our organization is a strong supporter of the Thunderbirds Birdies for Charity® program because their efforts benefit so many,” he continued. “To all the amazing men and women who volunteer their time to make this possible, Gompers shouts out a big Gator salute!”

Equine therapy offers tangible benefits

By Dory Chamas

On horseback, Fernando becomes taller — in more ways than one.

horse 2I have started taking students to equine therapy because I believe it is really valuable for students who have disabilities. The class has been visiting Arizona Horseriding Adventures™ in Waddell over the past couple of months.

During each visit the instructor and ranch owner, Anita Norton, works in one-on-one sessions with three students. Before they begin, each student must be wearing his or her name badge. The students literally start from the horse 3ground up — first working on getting to know the horse by brushing it, feeding it and cleaning its hooves. They also get to play with the horse and get to know him or her. Once Anita believes a student is ready, it’s time to ride.

One of the activities our students do from horseback is a ring toss, where the student on the horse throws a ring to try to land it on a post, and the students on the ground retrieve the ring. Fernando really responded. Nate, while riding his horse, started to verbalize.

horse 4“Every nonverbal child that I’ve ever had here has started speaking after working with the horses,” Ms. Norton told me. “It’s one word at a time, but they keep building on it until they become Chatty Cathys.

“He has it; it’s inside,” she said of Nate after a recent session. “He know the words. It’s being encouraged, being asked, being expected. You will notice as we’re going that I am asking, I am encouraging and I’m expecting.”

As his teacher, I truly feel that Nate will start saying words soon. This is not just a hobby or activity; it’s much more than that. It’s so beneficial for my students, and I’m so grateful we have this learning opportunity.

Dory Chamas, who earned her master’s degree in special education from Arizona State University, teaches our high-school classroom at Gompers Private School.


Assistive technology locks in life lessons


By Dory Chamas

Gompers Board Member Billie Enz examines the AT classroom car seat designed by teacher Dory Chamas.

Gompers Board Member Billie Enz examines the AT classroom car seat designed by Mrs. Chamas.

In my classroom, assistive technology turns doing into learning.

It has been exciting to see assistive technology, or AT, make its way through Gompers and truly create changes in people’s lives. Some of the AT items are high-tech — like the augmentative communication devices that give a voice to those without speech, or iPads with access to a variety of educational apps.

There also are AT devices that staff at Gompers have conceptualized and made themselves, like the car seat/seatbelt setup and other gadgets now being used in my classroom.

Danica practices tying shoelaces.

Danica practices tying shoelaces.

The idea for an AT seatbelt device came to mind because my class had been going on field trips regularly, and none of my students knew how to fasten their seatbelts. Because society is in a hurry all the time, sometimes it’s easier for someone to say, “Here, let me help you” — but that isn’t always the best answer.

I went to our Facilities Director, Steve Tolle, and told him what I had in mind. Using part of a discarded chair, a sturdy wooden base with locking wheels, a seatbelt and a metal post, Steve got to work. The finished product sits at the same height as a regular car or van seat. The seatbelt is linked to the post (slightly behind and above a passenger’s left shoulder) and to the box — much as the double straps on a car seatbelt are positioned — and my students can take turns sitting down, drawing the strap across their laps and clicking the latch into place.

Nate can show anyone how to zip!

Nate knows how to zip!

Being able to practice in class without the imminent excitement of a trip allows the students to take their time and really focus on what they’re learning.

AT doesn’t stop at the seatbelt, because there are other everyday tasks my students need to master. Through the use of other AT aids designed in my classroom and the repurposing of items originally intended for other uses, students are learning to fold shirts, tie their shoes and operate zippers.

Not everyone works at the same level, and that is okay. Each of my students has room to grow, and all of them are capable of learning and proud of what they can do.


Dory Chamas, who earned her master’s degree in special education from Arizona State University, teaches our high-school classroom at Gompers Private School.


Neighborhood project builds understanding

By Roger Cardillo

Sometimes, looking at something from a different angle makes it easier to understand.

With that thought in mind, my students and I are becoming builders together and we are assembling a scale model of the local community. neighborhood 1Using paper, paint, cardboard and popsicle sticks, we’re going to create a bird’s-eye view of our little corner of the world.

This is not simply an art project; it is a way of getting our class to look at the city with fresh comprehension and a new set of questions: How do city streets work? If I want to get to Circle K, what’s the best way to get there? What route gets me to school every day?

During our “build,” we will be discussing awareness of our environment and talking about how cities are planned, the difference between houses and commercial buildings and the different ways we can get from Point A to Point B.

Gompers’ Director of Education, Mitch Henderson, definitely sees the value in this particular lesson.

neighborhood 6“Students better understand relative location by being able to identify specific places in relationship to where they go to school or nearby places with which they’re familiar,” Mr. Henderson notes. “Students with increased abilities will use the scale model to create turn-by-turn directions and calculate distances. This hands-on lesson creates a more meaningful learning experience for the students which they will be able to apply on their next community outing.”

One boy in my class, Abel, really seems to enjoy the time we are spending building this miniature community.

“It’s fun,” he says. “I like to count the houses.”

By the time we’re done, there will be plenty of houses and buildings to count!

Roger Cardillo earned his master’s degree in special education from the University of Phoenix and is certified in all related developmental delays and disciplines.

Bridget sees the light — in the best possible way

By Mark DeAngelis

When it’s hard to move your gaze, it’s more challenging to learn.

I have been working with a student named Bridget in Heather Hall’s classroom. Bridget has a visual impairment that challenges her ability to track motion — like Ms. Hall pointing to the SMART Board, for example. Because of this impairment, she will fixate on one thing for several minutes.

bridget 2 small fileBridget’s goal is to be able to track movement and visually focus on a new object for a few seconds. Since November, she and I have been working together every school day for about 45 minutes to improve her tracking ability. We do this using several assistive technology devices.

You may have heard many references to assistive technology, or AT, before at Gompers. We use AT a lot here. Many believe it is another term for computerized devices that help people communicate, but AT is more than that. Any device that is able to increase an individual’s independence can be considered assistive technology, whether it’s a shovel with a soft grip to make it easier for someone with arthritis to use or an iPad app that teaches the alphabet to a child.

bridget 3 small fileFor Bridget’s vision, we use (among other things) a toy wand topped by a ball that lights up and spins. Bright lights cue Bridget’s vision, and she especially seems to like red. Often, when I hold up the wand and wave it slowly in her path of vision, she will turn her head to keep it in sight. The fact that she moves her entire head, rather than just willing her eyes to follow the light, may indicate she doesn’t have complete 180-degree peripheral vision; still, it is encouraging to see she is able to track its movement.

bridget 4 small fileWe also have a number of free iPad apps — like Gravity, Electra and Doorbells — that provide visual and audio stimulation. Often, I will help her get her hand on the iPad screen so she is able to see the streams of light that follow the movements her fingers make there.

At first our sessions moved slowly, because I was new in Bridget’s world. Now that we’ve established rapport, she is starting to respond to the lessons. We’re working on different daily activities to try to keep her visual focus for 15 to 20 seconds at a time. After we have mastered that, we will try to increase that length of time — because it will mean an improved ability to stay on task in class.

Mark DeAngelis has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in visual impairment (certification) in the State of Arizona. He also is an Employment Services Supervisor who presently oversees safety and behavioral issues for approximately 40 members at Gompers Employment Services.