Zip Code Project Updates

May 9th, 2017

Zip Code Project: Phoenix Launch Event

Zip Code Project-Phoenix LaunchApril 27, 2017

The Launch

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas kicked off the Phoenix launch of the Zip Code Project. At the press conference on Thursday April 27th, integral members of the education community spoke to the continued development of the Zip Code Project in Phoenix neighborhoods, in addition to the work already accomplished in other parts of the state.

“It is impossible for our education system to prepare students to be successful citizens if they are not attending school,” Superintendent Douglas said. “Our mission with the Zip Code Project is to help these young adults get back on track to a fulfilling, happy and productive life. Our job is to give them every opportunity to get a first-class education, as well as a chance to pursue their hopes and dreams.”

The event was hosted in the South Phoenix at South Mountain High School, which along with Maryvale, are the two communities that were launched in the Phoenix area. Chinle and Ajo are the other two zip codes that have integrated the program into their communities.

Starting from the ground floor in 2015 with limited funding, Zip Code Manager Christopher Dickinson has collaborated and partnered with local clergy, community organizations, cities, neighborhoods, parole and probation officers, alternative high schools, as well as education and business leaders to assist these youth.

“The Zip Code Project leverages public-private partnerships to identify and implement solutions and resources to prevent to assist with dropout prevention and support alternative paths to success,” Dickinson said. “This is not an easy issue to combat, but I am grateful to all of the communities for their continuous support and dedication. I look forward to even further expansion of this program to more zip codes throughout the state in the near future.”

These are the speakers from the event – Click on image to go to their site:

Zip Code S Phx Launch 13 Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas spoke about the Zip Code Project and the need to open up opportunity for our youth.
Zip Code S Phx Launch 15 Christopher Dickinson, Manager of the Zip Code Project, developed the Zip Code Project under the direction of Superintendent Douglas.
Zip Code S Phx Launch 16 Elora Diaz, Opportunities for Youth Initiative, spoke about the OFY initiative in Maricopa County and how we collaborate.
Zip Code S Phx Launch 19 Cyndi Tercero, Phoenix Union High School District, spoke about PUHSD and the Dropout Prevention work they do exceptionally well.
Zip Code S Phx Launch 22 Binky Jones, Ombudsman Educational Services, spoke about how Ombudsman and the AZ Alt Schools collaborate with the Zip Code Project.
Zip Code S Phx Launch 25 Karen Callahan, Genesis City/Academy, introduced Mr. Jones and spoke about Genesis and the importance of programs such as the Zip Code Project.

Posted in Zip Code Project Updates |
January 24th, 2017

Partner Spotlight: International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA)


International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA)

The International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) is a non-profit corporation founded in 1993 and governed by a board of directors representing the indigenous and non-indigenous populations of the U.S. and Mexico. This group of concerned individuals has gathered to make a change in the community. Their shared goals and values, despite coming from all walks of life, have led them to come together as a community to make a difference.

Vision: Establish the region as a showcase for environmental excellence and an international center for arts and culture with a prosperous and sustainable economy offering opportunities for all its residents.

Mission: Design and implement environmental, cultural, real estate and business development projects intended to preserve and enrich the environment, culture and economy of the Sonoran Desert.

The ISDA plans to:

  • Promote the concept and practice of conservation throughout the bio region;
  • Provide education in ways of protecting and respecting valuable biological and cultural resources and traditions;
  • Develop creative and sustainable solutions to critical local issues such as housing and economic development;
  • Provide practical opportunities for individual and community action.

Sonoran Desert Conference Center

The Sonoran Desert Conference Center is one of the many ventures that ISDA is involve with as a way to reach out and engage the community with the Ajo culture. The new Sonoran Desert Conference Center in Ajo, Arizona offers one-of-a-kind hospitality that engages visitors in the rich culture of the Southwest. It is located in the heart of the spectacular Sonoran Desert on the beautifully restored Curley School campus just a short walk to the town’s historic, Spanish style plaza. They offer accommodations and meeting services with a menu of authentic cultural, artistic, scientific and outdoor adventures for individuals and groups.

Community Learning Center

The Community Learning Center is a program established by ISDA that aid teens and young adults in preparing them for the GED test. ISDA’s Community Learning Center and the GED Program are housed in the beautifully renovated historic Curley School cafeteria. The GED program currently offers both afternoon and evening sessions. The afternoon sessions meet weekdays from 12-3 p.m. and helps prepare Native American, Mexican, and Anglo youth, aged 16-24 to pass the newly revised, on-line GED test. Their evening session, which also offers Adult Basic Education instruction, meets Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. Laptops are available for students to use in improving their test scores via on-line practice tests and activities. Students work at their own pace following individualized learning plans. Other learning activities offered include art instruction, movement games, field trips, and cooking. In addition, a Work-Study option provides students the opportunity to develop important job skills while earning a stipend through placement at a local sponsoring business.

Ajo Art

Ajo Art is a collection of art around town, the majority of which is accessible to the public. Over the past years, Ajo has evolved into a haven for hikers, mountain bikers, artists, bird watchers, environmentalists and star gazers. Combined with its history as a tri-cultural copper mining town, Ajo’s eclectic nature and diversity are expressed in a wonderful display of public art, community art, and outsider art. These terms are defined as follows:

Public Art – art that has been planned and executed with the intention of being displayed in a public place. Community Art – art based in a community setting and has been created with community participation. Outsider Art – work by artists who are self-taught or who have little contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions.

Since partnering with the Zip Code Project in the summer of 2016, ISDA has been conducive in organizing events in the Ajo area. There is a lot of work to be done, however we are eager to witness the growth of our partnership with ISDA and the Ajo Community in the upcoming months and years.

You can find additional information about ISDA at:

Posted in Zip Code Project Updates |
January 5th, 2017

Happy New Year



Happy New Year!

The Zip Code Project looks forward to serving the youth in Arizona in new and exciting ways. Here is a preview of what is to come in 2017:

  • Launching the 85031 and 85040 Phoenix-area zip code community groups of action. (February 2017)
  • A potential west-Phoenix pilot project targeting guidance counselors in partnership with other agencies. (Spring 2017)
  • Announcing the addition of two new zip codes (Summer 2017)
  • We will be partnering and collaborating with a greater number of organizations. (All Year)
  • And much more to be announced!

Progress is being made in the mission to assist disconnected youth around Arizona by working together. Continue to collaborate, partner, and communicate to help these young people find the path to success that fits them. Remember, education is not one size fits all.



Posted in Zip Code Project Updates |
December 15th, 2016

Partner Spotlight: Opportunity Nation


Opportunity Nation: The Shared Plan to Restore Opportunity

Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, national campaign comprised of more than 350 cross-sector organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America.

Mission: Opportunity Nation’s mission is to restore the promise of the American Dream by ensuring that all Americans – regardless of where they were born – have the opportunity to thrive.

Approach: Measure access to opportunity, advance bipartisan legislation, and convene cross-sector groups nationally.

They believe that expanding economic mobility is the defining issue of our time. Closing the opportunity gap will take innovative, bipartisan, cross-sector solutions grounded in data and collaboration

Opportunity Index

One of the key aspects of the fantastic work that Opportunity Nation does is developing the Opportunity Index. This index is an annual composite measure at the state and county levels of economic, educational and civic factors that expand opportunity. Click here for more information about the Opportunity Index.

The index is comprised of several difference metrics related to jobs/economy, education, and community. Opportunity Nation uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Census, American Community Survey, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), US Department of Education, EDFacts, Department of Justice and the US Department of Health and Human Services. The learn more about their data sources, click here.

Arizona Trends

With the release of the 2016 Opportunity Index, we can see how the country is doing on improving opportunity. Overall opportunity in America has increased by 8.9% since 2011. Nationally, unemployment rates are decreasing, violent crime rates dropping, and youth disconnection is going down as well. For more on the national trends, click here.

In Arizona, the opportunity outlook is starting to improve. Especially for our youth. Here are a few data comparisons from 2015-2016:

Topic 2015 2016
Unemployment Rate (%) 5.7% 5.5%
Median Household Income ($) $45,405 $46,115
Povery (% below poverty line) 18.6% 18.2%
Preschool (% ages 3 and 4 in school) 34.8% 36.3%
On-Time High School Graduation (% four year) 75.1% 75.7%
Disconnected Youth (%) 17.3% 15.2%
Disconnected Youth (#) 146,510 129,372

For more information and to take a look at the 2016 Opportunity Index, please go to

For the 2016 Summary of Findings from Opportunity Nation, click here to download the report.

Posted in Zip Code Project Updates |
November 21st, 2016

Zip Code Project Profile: 86503 (Chinle, AZ)


The History And Significance of the Chinle Region

Arizona history begins in Chinle. The modern town is situated at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, believed to be the longest continually inhabited location in all of Arizona, having been occupied for at least the last five thousand years. The sheer canyon walls provide natural protection from enemies and the elements; the sandy canyon floor is wide enough to support farming, grazing, and orchards; and water supplies are more reliable than most other areas in the wider region. Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established on April 1, 1931 as part of the National Park Service system. At 131 square miles, the monument covers an area larger than Glendale and Flagstaff combined. You can learn more about Canyon de Chelly here.

All of these natural advantages have made effective control of the Chinle vicinity a key component of the balance of power throughout the entire Four Corners region back into the fog of ancient history. Consequently, the Chinle region has been a site of intense competition and many battles. No one truly knows the comings and goings of antiquity, but it was a home to the Hopi until sometime around the 1700s, when the Navajo arrived at the canyon. The Navajo had only a century or so to make themselves at home, however, before they came into conflict with Lieutenant Antonio Narbona, a Spanish soldier (born in the Spanish city of Mobile, Alabama*) who would later become Governor of Spanish New Mexico, and a prominent figure in the fight for Mexican independence from Spain. In retaliation for attacks on a Spanish military post, he led an 1805 raid on the canyon that killed over one hundred Navajo and captured dozens of women and children as slaves.

The Navajo continued to control the region until, in 1863, Kit Carson’s expedition drove them from the region in a harsh campaign, resulting in 9,500 Navajo along with 500 Mescalero Apache spending five long years imprisoned on the Bosque Redondo reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The Navajo returned in 1868, and the region and canyon remain part of their tribal lands to this day.

*The Spanish captured Mobile during the American Revolutionary War during the Battle of Fort Charlotte in 1780, and retained Mobile by the terms of the war-ending Treaty of Paris in 1783. Mobile was then a part of the colony of Spanish West Florida, for over 30 years, controlled from Pensacola until 1813 when it was captured by American forces.

The Challenges Facing Chinle and 86503

The challenges facing Chinle arise in large part from being located deep in the heart of the Navajo Nation. While there is tourism, Chinle is far from any major transport arteries, with high unemployment and extensive poverty. The difficulty of finding work in the region is a major obstacle for Chinle students seeking to stay and succeed once they have graduated.

Other challenges are purely the result of physical and political geography: The Navajo Nation falls under the purview of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, its own sovereign tribal laws, multiple counties, three states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah), and the Navajo Nation. If it were an independent state, it would be the 39th largest state. That’s a lot of land, and a lot of red tape.

Our Zip Code Project Goals in Chinle

Working on reservations always presents unique challenges, as outlined in the previous section. The local community is very invested in the education of their young people, resulting in a graduation rate near the state average despite the poverty in the region. The challenges with disconnected youth in Chinle are strongly related to the difficulty of finding a job or continuing their education after graduating.

Our mission in Chinle is to work with community leaders to create more options for their young people. They deserve the same opportunities afforded other Arizona youth in return for their hard work and dedication to expanding their educations. In all our initial zip codes, we are working to create actionable toolkits that organizations can use to build individualized solutions for any disconnected youth they encounter.

Our Partners in Chinle

Our main partner in Chinle, and the host of our first Zip Code Project regional meeting this summer, is the Chinle Unified School District. We appreciate their help, feedback, and advice in these early stages of the Zip Code Project.

While we fully intend to bring in other community organizations moving forward, beginning with those closest to the students we are trying to help has proven extremely helpful to identifying the particular needs of the community. One of the biggest challenges facing us is that we often work far away from the areas we are trying to serve. This can lead to a lack of context for the problems facing our students and the solutions that can help them. The Arizona Department of Education’s We Are Listening Tour and several other ongoing projects are endeavoring to put the needs of all Arizona students in perspective so that we can fulfill them.

If you or your organization is interested in becoming a resource or part of our toolkit for helping disconnected youth in Chinle, please contact us.

Organization Type Zip Code
A For Arizona Non-Profit All
Chinle Unified School District LEA 86503
Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith, and Family Government All
Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) Non-Profit/Government All
Opportunity Nation Non-Profit (National) All

Posted in Zip Code Project Updates | Tagged , , , , , |
November 2nd, 2016

Zip Code Project Profile: 85321 (Ajo, AZ)


The History and Significance of Ajo, Arizona

Ajo is the largest municipality within the 85321 zip code, which stretches from the southern edge of the Sonoran Desert National Monument all the way to the Mexican border, encompassing all of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the western quarter of the Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation.

Ajo’s history stretches back into antiquity, even the origin of the town’s name being uncertain. Ajo, Spanish for onion, was possibly a mispronunciation of o’oho, the Tohono O’odham word for paint. This theory is supported by the mineral-rich soil of the region being used by native tribes as a source of vibrant red paint pigments.

The region gained significance for the United States when Washington Michael Jacobs and Tom Childs, Sr. returned to an abandoned Spanish mine the latter had explored on his way out to the silver mines of California in 1847 and began operations.

The mine shipped copper ores clear around Cape Horn, and across the Atlantic to be smelted in Wales. Although this mine later closed, advancing technology made mining the area more profitable in the early Twentieth Century, and Ajo quickly became another of the West’s mining boomtowns.

The Phelps-Dodge mining corporation, still headquartered in Phoenix as a subsidiary of Freeport McMoRan, bought mining interests in the area soon after. In this way, Ajo not only contributed significantly to Arizona’s economy, right through to the modern era, but was in no small part responsible for breaking the burgeoning industrial economy of the young United States from dependence on Europe for raw materials.


The Challenges Facing Ajo and 85321

The biggest challenge facing Ajo is its isolation. This small town is far from major traffic arteries and, with the flight of mining interests from the area, has difficulty providing work for the residents who choose to stay. Another difficulty arises from the vast expanse of the region. 85321 covers 1540 square miles, only five square miles shy of the total land area of Rhode Island.

Of the 16-to-24-year-olds in the region, 55% are not in school, and 65% are unemployed.

Our Zip Code Project Goals in Ajo

The biggest challenge in Ajo is connecting disconnected youth with employment opportunities, to that end our current goals are to work with the community to explore the options currently available, develop relationships with the organizations already working to alleviate the pressures on youth in the region, and better understand the situation on the ground. Once we have completed the outreach and assessment segments of the plan, we’ll work to deploy a toolkit for the region, and ADE policies to improve the educational lives of rural Arizonans in the region.

Our Partners in Ajo

The Zip Code Project exists to amplify the strength of our partner organizations. In the Ajo region, we are lucky to be preceded by several amazing organizations. The International Sonoran Desert Alliance, the Las Artes School, the Pima Community Action Agency, Youth on the Rise, Ajo Unified School District and the United Way of Tucson and Southern AZ are all working on problems related to disconnected youth.

Organization Type Zip Code
A For Arizona Non-Profit All
Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith, and Family Government All
International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) Non-Profit 85321
Las Artes School LEA 85321 +
Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) Non-Profit/Government All
Opportunity Nation Non-Profit (National) All
Pima County Community Action Agency (One-Stop) Non-Profit 85321 +
United Way of Tucson and Southern AZ Non-Profit 85321 +
Youth on the Rise Non-Profit 85321 +
Ajo Unified School District LEA 85321

Posted in Zip Code Project Updates |
October 24th, 2016

Zip Code Project – Blog Launch




Who are Disconnected Youth?

Nationally, one in seven youth ages 16-24 are considered disconnected and not in school or working; in Arizona, that number is a staggering one in five. In some of our more rural communities, the numbers of disconnected youth are much higher. The negative effects of disconnection are felt across the economy, society, and the criminal justice system.  Arizona has over 183,000 disconnected youth which equates to $127.3 billion in economic losses.  Each disconnected youth is missing out on over $695,100 over their lifetime due to decreased earnings and increased public and private expenses for health, crime and welfare.  The state and local governments are losing $1.5 billion in lost tax revenues and increased welfare costs for the more than 18,000 youth who failed to graduate in 2012. Not only are disconnected youth suffering financial losses, they are dealing with increased likelihood of chronic unemployment later in life.  But hope for these youth is not lost!

Critical Issue: 1 in 5 young adults in Arizona are disconnected


How will the Zip Code Project Help Disconnected Youth in Arizona?

The Zip Code Project is an initiative of the Arizona Department of Education dedicated to assisting disconnected youth ages 16-24 who are neither employed nor attending school. The goal is to find them opportunities so they can succeed in life. This vulnerable population needs our greatest attention.

Unfortunately, the numbers of disconnected youth are increasing. But with your help, we can change that.

How Will This Work?

The Zip Code Project is a burgeoning partnership between the Arizona Department of Education and a growing number of organizations throughout the state, focused primarily on connecting youth with the resources they need to turn their lives around.

  • The Zip Code Project works by taking a comprehensive community-based approach, which puts the community’s needs front and center.
  • Community leaders from each identified zip code will convene to discuss issues and possible solutions on a quarterly basis.
  • Preventing disconnection is a priority of the Arizona Department of Education, and we hope to do so by highlighting successes and best practices related to Early Childhood education, Career and Technical education, Adult Education, and Alternative Education High Schools.

The Zip Code Project is intended to be a comprehensive resource toolbox, to help youth and those trying to help them craft a solution that will work for any Arizona student. Trying to apply the same solution to every student facing difficulties, without any consideration of that student’s individual needs, just doesn’t work.

Education can’t be one size fits all!


Where is the Zip Code Project Working?

For the 2016-2017 school year, the Zip Code Project is working in the following areas:

  • 86503: the Chinle, AZ area in Northeastern Arizona in the heart of the Navajo Nation.
  • 85321: the Ajo, AZ area in Southern Arizona near the Mexican border.
  • 85031: the Maryvale neighborhood in West Phoenix.
  • 85040: a vibrant community in South Phoenix.


Who are our Zip Code Project Launch Partners?

The Zip Code Project is working with several community partners throughout Arizona. The list continues to grow on a daily basis. Here is a selection of some of the partners we are currently working with:

Organization Type Zip Code
A For Arizona Non-Profit All
C.O.R.E. Non-Profit 85040, 85031
Chinle Unified School District LEA 86503
City of Phoenix Government 85040, 85031
City of Phoenix – Parks and Recreation Government 85040, 85031
EAGLE College Prep: Maryvale LEA 85031
Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith, and Family Government All
Hope College and Career Readiness Academy LEA 85040
International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) Non-Profit 85321
Las Artes School LEA 85321 +
Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) Non-Profit/Government All
Maricopa County Education Service Agency (MCESA) Government 85040, 85031
Maricopa County Regional School District LEA 85040, 85031
Opportunity for Youth Leadership Council Multi-sector 85040, 85031
Opportunity Nation Non-Profit (National) All
Pima County Community Action Agency (One-Stop) Non-Profit 85321 +
United Way of Tucson and Southern AZ Non-Profit 85321 +
Valley of the Sun United Way Non-Profit 85040, 85031
Youth on the Rise Non-Profit 85321 +

If your organization would like to partner with the Zip Code Project, please contact Christopher Dickinson at the Arizona Department of Education.

How can I help Disconnected Youth?

Many of our partner organizations are always looking for volunteers or support, for starters. More than that, you should never underestimate how impactful one person can be when working with a young person trying to find their place in the world. If you know a youth that is disconnected from school or work, don’t be afraid to help them, or use the resources we’re putting together right here in the Zip Code Project to help them find a path to success and prosperity.

Where Can I Learn More About Disconnected Youth?

One of the easiest ways to start your fight to end the cycle of youth disconnection is to become aware of the issue and the negative effects it has on, not only, the youth but society as a whole. Here are some links to help start the process:

Measure of America

Opportunity Nation

Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable

Opportunities for Youth

Where Can I Contact the Zip Code Project

The Zip Code Project is managed by Christopher Dickinson and can be contacted here:

Christopher Dickinson Manager of the Zip Code Project [email protected] Office: 602.542.9411 Cell: 602.695.9211

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