Bookman’s Entertainment Exchange employees Lori Whipple, center, and Rebecca Ballenger, far right, reveal the $15,000 prize won by Pueblo Magnet High School in the Bookmans School Challenge. Principal Vivi Watt stands at left.

Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

At a time when budget cuts are the norm, the students at Pueblo Magnet High School were treated to a pleasant surprise Tuesday in the form of a $15,000 check.

The check was presented to students during a schoolwide assembly at the south-side campus as the winners of the Bookmans School Challenge. The cash will be used to create the Sí Se Puede cybercafe, an on-campus computer-connected meeting and study area slated to open next school year.

The cafe is part of the school’s effort to encourage students to raise their grade-point averages and increase attendance. Only those who make the honor roll or the principal’s list can use the cafe. Students who exemplify positive behavior will also be able to earn time in the cafe.

While Pueblo bought 15 computers for the cafe last year, it has remained empty, in need of furnishings and a coat of paint.

“We deserve this,” said Pueblo Career Counselor Saúl Ostroff, who completed the application on the school’s behalf at the prompting of Principal Vivi Watt. “We already have great teachers and great kids; now we need resources.

“Budget cuts throughout the recession have been tremendous, so we need all of the resources we can get … that’s what these kids are hungry for.”

The statewide contest, designed to highlight positive things happening at Arizona schools, consisted of three phases: an application, a video submission with Facebook voting and a school visit.

Pam Shapiro and her electronic-journalism students came up with the vision for the video submission, which highlighted the school’s award-winning teachers and students, academic and extracurricular programs, and the honors that have been bestowed on the school, which serves about 1,500 students.

The video, which has been viewed on YouTube more than 200 times, focused on the need for quality technology on campus to close the “digital divide,” noting that some students don’t have Internet access at home.

At the close of the Facebook voting period, Pueblo landed in the top three schools for the challenge, making the school eligible for either $3,000 should it be named a runner-up or the grand prize of $15,000.

Bookmans toured Pueblo and another Tucson Unified School District campus — Safford K-8 Magnet International Baccalaureate World School. It also visited Dobson High School in Mesa.

Pueblo students and staffers believe the school tour, which was led by students and alumni, sealed the deal.

“This is something the whole school came together to do,” Watt said.

Pueblo senior Justine Dominguez, who worked on the video, added, “It was the Pueblo environment that got us where we are today.”

Bookmans Marketing Director Sheila Kressler-Crowley agreed, recognizing the school’s student body, alumni and teachers, calling the sense of community “moving and inspirational.”

“The responsibility students, educators and alumni feel for one another creates probably the strongest sense of community we’ve seen in the Bookmans School Challenge,” Kressler-Crowley said.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea

Education writer for #ThisIsTucson. Mom of one.