Monday marked the opening of Sky Islands High School, a unique charter school focused on the environment through a project-based curriculum.
Just as the 70,000-square-mile Sky Islands region shared by Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico is globally important because of its rich diversity, so is Sky Islands High School.
The school, at 201 S. Wilmot Road, has an open learning environment to reinforce the idea that learning occurs in multiple places continually, like a series of connected islands of experience and activities.
The faculty and staff are highly qualified and come from diverse fields of work and academics.
Each brings multiple areas of interest and expertise, with the ability to integrate across their areas – history, math, science, language arts and arts – to provide rich task experiences.
They see themselves as a team and function together as a strong unit.
In addition to the academic goals of meeting and exceeding state educational requirements, the faculty is focused on integrating content through team teaching and hands-on projects, allowing for extended activities while promoting student interdependence.
The faculty has chosen a Barbara Kingsolver book, “The Bean Trees,” to read across the curriculum at the start of this year.
History teacher Maria Irvin is integrating the study of social struggles in the novel with other faculty members Jenise Porter, Kyle Williams, Porter McDonald and Lukas Bogard, to ensure Sky Islands’ students grasp not only the novel’s historical context, but also the ways that science, math, visual imagery and narrative are used and develop the story.
Sky Islands’ broader goal is to connect education to the neighborhoods in ways that both strengthen and go beyond – creating neighborhood gardens, water harvesting projects and connections with local people.
Sky Islands also has a school membership with L.A. Fitness across the street to better build fitness and health into the curriculum, and all students are obtaining cards at the nearby Wilmot branch public library.
The school is the dream of Shari Popen, founder and director of Sky Islands.
Her vision for Sky Islands was born more than 40 years ago when she was teaching high school in upstate New York.
She has long been an advocate of school reform, addressing inequities in schools and remaking education in ways that enrich the lives of students and teachers.
Popen has a master’s degree from Kent State and a doctorate from State University of New York at Albany.
She has taught at New York and Ohio high schools, at Western Washington University and at the University of Arizona’s Department of Political Science and College of Education.
Her immediate goal for Sky Islands is to make it a place “where we all want to be every day.”
In keeping with Sky Islands’ environmental commitment, all new interior paint and vinyl tiles are ecologically safe and nontoxic.
And even the school’s Web site (www.skyislands.org) was designed by Creative Slice, a local “green design” firm.
New York transplant Valerie Golembiewski is a Tucson wife, mother and grandmother. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org