October 26, 2022

An InspirED Evening Honors Arizona’s Innovative Education Leaders and Programs

Education Forward Arizona recently recognized Arizona’s innovative education leaders and programs at an event held Thursday, Oct. 20, at the J.W. Marriott Camelback Inn.

Edmundo Hidalgo and Gema Duarte Luna co-chaired the inaugural event, An InspirED Evening, which brought together individuals from across the state to celebrate innovation and collaboration in education.

During the event, Education Forward Arizona honored:

  • Benito Almanza, Bank of America’s Arizona President, with a Luminary Award;
  • Tempe PRE, a full-day community preschool partnership led by the City of Tempe, with a North Star Award in the Early Learning category;
  • Read Better Be Better, an after-school literacy program for schools across the state, with a North Star Award in the Elementary and Middle School category;
  • Arizona Student Opportunity Collaborative, which increases access to advanced educational opportunities for rural students, led by Miami, Ariz. High School Principal Glen Lineberry, with a North Star Award in the High School category; and
  • Freeport-McMoRan’s Native American Scholarship program, with a North Star Award in the Postsecondary Education category.

In addition to hearing stories from each deserving award recipient, guests heard from Ezequias Fuentes, an Education Forward Arizona Scholar and senior at Arizona State University.

Fuentes, who graduated from Camelback High School in Phoenix, has nine siblings. He spoke about the struggles that he and his brothers and sisters faced from growing up in poverty, moving homes frequently, and switching schools constantly. For example, he went to five different schools when he was in the eighth grade.

This spring, he will be one of the first in his family to graduate from a public university. 

“Teachers have been very crucial in sparking my interest to continue to receive an education,” said Fuentes. “They have always shared the possibilities and opportunities that education can bring about, not only with careers, but with a sound mind and outlook on life. After graduating from high school, I was able to have a four-year college success coach from Education Forward Arizona to guide me and answer my questions. College has not been easy for me, and I’d be lying if I were to say it was. Seeing close friends weave out, going virtual for half of my college years due to the pandemic, losing two father figures, feeling incompetent at times around my peers, and the burden of having to make my community proud could at times feel very heavy. Although at times I might have felt alone, I was never lonely.”

The event ended with thunderous applause, standing ovations and a surprise mariachi performance. 

“Education Forward Arizona represents the willingness of people from all parts of the state – those of different races and ethnicities; those from rural, suburban, and urban areas; and those from business, education, philanthropic, nonprofit and other sectors – to work differently, collaboratively and more effectively to create better education opportunities, from early learning through postsecondary attainment,” said Rich Nickel, President and CEO of Education Forward Arizona.

To view and download photos from the Oct. 20 event, click here.