Reimagining Where and How Learning Happens in TVUSD
Beginning with the design of the New Emily Gray Junior High School Campus Courtyard on Tanque Verde Road which opened in 2011, district leaders have been designing outdoor learning and collaborative spaces which enhance student experiences on our campuses.
Emily Gray Junior High School Courtyard SY 2011-12
The new Emily Gray Junior High School on Tanque Verde Road was opened for the 2011-2012 school year, after being relocated from its original site on N. Melpomene Way. The design of the new EGJH courtyard includes landscaping zones representing the different biomes in our area, and provides a beautiful respite in the center courtyard of the school for students and staff to enjoy. The courtyard is used for independent and small group learning, as well as a shady space for student celebrations and acknowledgments.
Agua Caliente Elementary School Nature Trail and Learning Zone SY 2021-22
The Agua Caliente Elementary School Nature Trail has been part of our school community since 1989. It was first initiated by the ACES Student Council under a grant titled, “Agua Caliente Nature Trail Project, Live Gently with the Land”. It was developed with input and volunteer hours from students, staff and community members. It won multiple awards and is a highly utilized, integral part of our school and neighborhood community.
In reviewing the rich history of our one acre Nature Trail, we found a student-created pamphlet containing the trail’s original mission statement - “Provide learners with opportunities to develop the awareness, knowledge, skills, and commitment for making informed decisions, using responsible behavior and taking constructive actions concerning the environment.”
ACES Principal, Mrs. Chris Rietz saw a need to restore the original Nature Trail, after more than 30 years of use, and envisioned an opportunity to create an innovative learning environment in conjunction with the restoration project. She was awarded two microgrants by A for Arizona to support the projects.
“Our committee of students, staff, and community members agree our top priorities for creating an exemplary, innovative learning environment are: shade, seating, restoring vegetation through green infrastructure, and integrating technology using solar power,” stated Rietz in the grant application vision statement.
The first phase of the project focused on restoring the nature trail and adding collaborative spaces. In the second project phase, the focus is on creating an outdoor science lab, enhancing an outdoor learning space for research and learning in a natural desert ecosystem, and adding a STEM teacher to lead the outdoor learning space.
The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by the end of the 2021-22 school year, and the second phase by the start of the 2022-23 school year.
Tanque Verde Elementary School 6th Grade Garden Renovation SY 2021-22
Brett Lewis, a junior at Tanque Verde High School, with members of the Tucson Youth Leadership Project and TVHS City Beautification Club, family and community members, led a project to restore and beautify the 6th Grade Outdoor Learning space at Tanque Verde Elementary School this spring.
Brett created a landscape plan and he and his team put into action the clean-up process and fundraising methods needed for the project. He and volunteers from the club spent a great deal of time pruning and raking out the beds. Brett repainted and refurbished the garden art, fixed up existing benches, and his family donated three new stone benches! Sixth graders helped with moving rocks, weeding, and gathering up the buried garden art.
On two Saturdays in late March and early April, 6th grade students and their families helped with the final two stages of the project, the planting of new trees and desert plants in the redesigned zones.
According to Ms. Jen Basler, 6th Grade Teacher at TVES, “Our vision is to have our 6th graders be caretakers of this very special space. We are creating a maintenance plan for each quarter (season) so that it is properly cared for. We also have ideas for successive planting as the years go by.”
At the March 25, 2022 Governing Board meeting, Brett Lewis shared a presentation which highlighted the transformation with before and after project photos.
In the second TVES Outdoor Learning Project, funded by an A for Arizona Innovation Microgrant, school leaders, Principal Emma Batty and Asst. Principal Dr. Julie Laird, are working with community partners to design and develop an innovative outdoor music learning space and Community Learning Hubs. Musical adventures and lessons will be enhanced with large musical instrument structures in the kindergarten and primary playgrounds, where the music teacher will teacher proper techniques for each instrument and provide space and time for students to explore, improvise, and experience musical concepts. The school will collaborate with community partners to create Community Learning Hubs in the outdoor musical spaces and provide an after-school music learning hub for students to practice and inspire joy for learning outside of the classroom. The project is expected to be completed for the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
Tanque Verde High School Courtyard Renovation
With the support of TVUSD voters for the 2020 School Improvement Bond, the Tanque Verde High School campus is undergoing extensive renovations and improvements. Formerly Emily Gray Junior High School, the campus has undergone past projects funded by the Arizona School Facilities Board to provide high school level facilities to meet the growing needs of the community. The current projects, also funded largely by the SFB, include the new Student Commons Building, new Science Building, and outdoor, flexible learning spaces.
"The outdoor learning spaces allow for us to enjoy the unique and natural beauty of the Tanque Verde Valley. We will soon have spaces for teachers to take students outside for lectures, collaborative learning or even independent reading and individual practice,” remarked Dr. Amy Cislak, TVHS Principal. “These spaces will also allow for us to come together as a community for special performances, awards ceremonies, presentations, lectures, and even movie nights!”
Taking learning outside can be difficult when teachers have to think about all of the resources they need to carry outside. By having highly functional spaces and furniture already outside, with access to electricity for technology, innovative learning will be easier to implement. The courtyard design pictured here, provides an example of the reimagined outdoor spaces.
“We are excited that our outdoor learning experiences will mimic what a student will see if they are to attend the University of Arizona Franke Honors College or other higher education institutions who have created outdoor learning and collaboration spaces," added Dr. Cislak.