Having worked in the restaurant industry for nearly a decade, I've had the unsavory experience of working at corporate restaurants. I've been employed at places where I was simply a payroll number to a front office full of drones. At Ajo Al's, it's about quality and personal service.

When several Valley media outlets began publishing Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' reports, our entire staff was confused and dismayed. Our personal incomes, because of the severe drop-off in business, suffered incredibly. I've had to take on a second job since the debacle.

Immediately after the story broke, the Dainses, who own the restaurants, reassured us that they would take a firm stance against the allegations. I'm proud to work at Ajo Al's. If my co-workers and I felt that we were passing harmful substances to guests, we certainly wouldn't work there, no matter how happy we were.
Name withheld by request

Fred Harper

Class Act

School of hard knocks: About your article on the Pappas Schools ("Flunk'd," Sarah Fenske, June 29), first let me say that I'm not a school administrator, employee or anyone acting in an official capacity for the Pappas School or for the Maricopa Regional School District. I'm a retired police officer who spent 27 years working in a large city. After retiring, I moved to Phoenix. A year ago, I became involved at Pappas as a classroom volunteer and mentor.

I don't know who is to blame for the current budget crisis or for the other issues that surround the district. If there is wrongdoing, I hope that an investigation brings everything to light and any guilty parties are dealt with accordingly. What I do care about is the kids at Pappas and their stake in what has become a political issue driven by people who I believe have agendas not related to the education of children.

I, too, was touched when I saw the clothing room, and the medical facilities, and heard about all the "great things" Pappas provides its student population. I signed up on the spot and later reached out to one special child through the mentor program.

What goes on in the classrooms at Pappas is truly amazing — as overworked, undersupplied and underpaid teachers work to bring education to kids who often have little or no prior experience with formal education. These kids don't come to Pappas straight from kinder-care or Montessori, they come from such places as the Flamingo Hotel or the Salvation Army Shelter. For many children, Pappas is the first school they've attended for any length of time. I think even the experts would tell you that stable, consistent education is the key to learning, and that children who cannot get this are going to have a hard time succeeding in life.

One of the big expenses at Pappas is the bus system. If the kids move, the buses find them and bring them back to their island of safety and security. It's not uncommon for a child to have his or her bus route changed while at school because parents have been forced to move during the day. I don't believe that any other school or school district could provide this critical service to such children.

One of the main points that experts argue is whether the children at Pappas can be mainstreamed, and if this would improve their chances for success. I believe that there are children at Pappas who would do well in a regular school environment. But there are kids who, if forced into a regular classroom environment, would simply disappear from the system. These kids have special needs. We all know how cruel children can be, and a child who has not showered for days, and is wearing the same clothing on Friday that he was wearing on Monday, cannot be expected to learn while being subjected to scorn from classmates.

You also argue that the teachers at Pappas are somehow subpar. This is pure fiction. Are there teachers at Pappas with provisional credentials? Sure, but the same conditions exist at almost any inner-city school. For the most part, you couldn't find a more seasoned, dedicated, caring and hardworking group of teachers than at Pappas. These teachers not only do their best to educate kids who often have no tools or background to equip them for the rigors of the classroom, but they also serve as mentors and social workers. If the kids at Pappas test low, it's likely a product of where they come from or the lack of value placed on education by their parents. It could be the simple fact that the kids haven't gone to school much.

I have stayed long enough at Pappas to find out that there is good work being done there that goes beyond the fluff. As a retired police officer, I can tell you that we either pay the price now to keep places like Pappas open, or we pay the price later. Without help, uneducated and misfit children will extract a toll from society as they get older.
Milt Dodge, Phoenix

Church Chat

Strong beliefs: I feel very sad that you think the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practices what the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preaches ("It Practices What They Preach," John Dougherty, May 25).

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