She may be the youngest of three siblings attending the same school, but there’s something about first grader Barbara Mackey that sets her apart from her older brothers. She – and 19 of her peers – are the school’s “founding students.”

They are the first cohort of students who will complete their entire elementary education, from kindergarten through sixth grade, at ASU Preparatory Academy’s Pilgrim Rest Elementary, which opened its doors for the first time in the fall of 2022.

For those familiar with the school’s curriculum, it may come as no surprise that Barbara recalls her favorite kindergarten memory is singing the “Good Morning” song with her teachers. Although she’ll also proudly tell you that she loves learning her “ABCs and 123s” and can even count up to 100.

The strong musical tradition of the Pilgrim Rest church is the inspiration behind an innovative jazz program at the school, which celebrates music education as a forum for expression but also a method for teaching elements of math and teamwork. Unlike the traditional school model, in which “specials” like music are offered just once or twice a week, students at Pilgrim Rest have multiple music and jazz touchpoints every week, including voice and musical instrument instruction.

When ASU Prep opened its newest elementary school for the 2022-23 school year, it was the culmination of months of collaboration and planning among ASU Prep, the Pilgrim Rest church community where the school is located, and local Black community leaders. Their purpose was to “co-construct” a school that could serve as a trusted and intentional educational space where students and families could forge a path toward future success.

“I chose this school for its names,” says Lynn Mackey, Barbara’s mother, and First Lady at Pilgrim Rest. “ASU is known for academic excellence and is No. 1 in innovation. Pilgrim Rest is also known for excellence in the community and innovation itself. Seeing those two partners come together and being a community school connected with ASU, it was a no-brainer for us.”

The new school, located on the grounds of Pilgrim Rest Church, gives families in the Eastlake community of Phoenix a new option for students in grades PreK–6. With a focus on community integration and innovation, ASU Prep Pilgrim Rest delivers a STEM- and art-focused program designed specifically to serve students of color. With the support of Arizona State University, it is creating new pathways to college, making higher education a reality for students of all backgrounds.

Now several weeks into first grade, Barbara is hard at work making her future dreams a reality. She is fully immersed in her music class and exploring new instruments daily, including developing a new love of the piano and percussion instruments. This is thanks, in part, to a partnership between ASU Prep and local musicians who help emerging scholars engage in the world of music and support culture equity by singing songs of the different cultures represented in the school.

While Barbara continues to discover the world of music, Lynn is quick to point out the balance between arts and academics that administrators work diligently to achieve. “She has weekly science labs and many hands-on classrooms activities that will help her go to higher heights and deeper depths in her learning and in life,” she says.

Learn more about Pilgrim Rest, including taking a virtual tour and learning about upcoming events, at