Belen Soto Elementary School, the 16th school in the Litchfield Elementary School District, opened its doors to 928 students this month.
The two-story building in the Goodyear community of Sedella is home to the Storm, whose school colors are green, black and gray. The students range from preschoolers through eighth graders.
In addition to creative flexible seating in the media center and a makerspace, Belen Soto Elementary School has a large community garden and an orchard with fig, fruit and citrus trees. The building was designed by Orcutt Winslow and was built by Chasse Building Team.
“We are grateful to our community for supporting quality education in our growing community,” Superintendent Jodi Gunning said.
The neighborhood school is named after the first college graduate of Mexican-American descent from the Southwest Valley. Belen Soto Moreno is a retired educator who graduated as the valedictorian from Litchfield High School in 1954. She and her large family have been active in the creation of her namesake school that is built on the same land where she grew up as the daughter of a farm worker.
Principal Courtney Frazier honored her with a tribute to her late husband, Rudy Moreno, that hangs by the water fountain in the new school’s media center. Belen met Rudy by the water fountain when they were first graders at Litchfield Elementary School. Rudy passed away during the construction phase of his wife’s namesake. They would have been married 60 years in June.
“This is a humbling experience for which I am very grateful. It’s been such an honor to work with Mrs. Soto Moreno and her entire family, most of whom still live in the Southwest Valley,” Frazier said.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony preceded the new school’s inaugural open house night prior to the first day of school. More than 700 people were in attendance, including Sen. Sine Kerr and Rep. Joanne Osborne of Legislative District 13, Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord and Councilmembers Brannon Hampton, Laura Kaino and Joe Pizzillo.
Also in attendance were Litchfield School District governing board members Kimberly Moran, Dr. Tawnya Pfitzer and Alayne Weathersby.
“We rely on our partners to help our students thrive at school and in life,” Gunning said. “We appreciate the voters who approved the bond dollars to build this school, and we are committed to providing quality education in this community like we have been doing for 102 years.”
Frazier gave a private tour to Belen and her extended family prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The grown Moreno children became tearful when their brother, Manny Moreno, poignantly declared that the family would donate one of Rudy’s cherished guitars to the Belen Soto Elementary School music program.
“We are deeply honored by this opportunity to advance your commitment to public education and promote the rich history of this community,” Frazier told the family. “Your legacy will forever live in the halls of this institution.”