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fast Times at Sky Islands High By Jonathan D’Auria S

hari Popen cracked the mold of the conventional public school model

when she welcomed the outdoors into her classrooms at the eco-focused Sky Islands Sustainable Charter School.

It began as a simple, yet profound concept – to design a dream high school fit for a new generation of students. Years ago, when she was a new teacher in upstate New York, Popen envisioned a school that instilled a sense of social and ecological responsibility, with integrated classes and higher standards than conventional public schools.

Now after a career that has

spanned 40 years, Popen’s dream is a challenging reality.

“Nothing prepared us for the kinds of stresses and strains that come from working with this generation of students,” said Popen, who has taught

photos courtesy of Sky Islands

at the University of Arizona and Western Washington University, and with Prescott College and Northern Arizona University in Tucson. “I really had to step back and ponder what these students need in this global world. How do we prepare them for a digital world, a global- trading world, and an economy that is not what it was before? For me, the key is to keep learning and moving. In order to do that, you have to know how to integrate.”

Shari Popen Sky Islands engages kids in

hands-on ways that other schools don’t – such as camping trips or visits to environments they read about. The result is a learning environment that embraces its beautiful surroundings, builds a tribe-like community and inspires eco-friendly traits.

“We offer many unique classes and really try to relate them to each other,” Popen said. “We try to get the kids to experience the learning rather than just read it straight from the text. We offer classes on transcendental literature where the class reads Thoreau, Walden and authors of that genre and we have a pond out back where those students sit and read. We’ve taken them on a two-night camping trip where they spend the nights in Rose Canyon and

18 Tucson

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