Dr Shari Popen
SKY ISLANDS FOUNDER AND SCHOOL DIRECTOR
I welcome you to Sky Islands, Tucson’s eco-conscious charter high school launched by the Blue Adobe Project in August of 2008. Please think about your educational goals as you review this website. Not all charter schools are alike. Sky Islands is not a credit recovery school, and our curriculum is not fast-paced or self-paced. Our teachers are all very highly qualified and knowledgeable, and classroom instruction is planned and led by the instructor under my guidance and in-line with State and Common Core Standards. Students who enroll at Sky Islands join an academic community and are expected to take part in our community respectfully and responsibly.
To accomplish the goals of our environmentally-focused, place-based educational program, we provide students with vibrant and sometimes physically demanding activities. Students can expect— and will be required to engage in— active inquiry and hands-on projects in class and out-of-doors. As part of our Student Code of Conduct, Sky Islands’ students agree not to ‘opt out’ of any required course activity or project. We also enforce academic eligibility requirements for all field trips.
In line with Arizona graduation requirements, all students who seek to graduate with an Arizona high school diploma from Sky Islands must demonstrate subject-matter knowledge of content, relevant analytical skills, and real-world applications. Graduates of Sky Islands’ integrated curriculum will be prepared to seek continuing education in programs that prepare them to work in alternative energy fields, gardening and food production, engineering and urban planning, water management and landscape design, as well as business and professional studies.
As for me, I have a Masters degree in Educational Foundations from Kent State University and a PhD in Educational Philosophy from SUNY Albany. I was a faculty member at Western Washington University for 8 years, taught at Prescott College/Tucson and at NAU/Tucson in the graduate Educational Leadership program. Prior to opening Sky Islands, I taught undergraduate and graduate courses at U of A in the College of Education for 10 years, and simultaneously taught in Political Science for 2 years. I continue to advise graduate students at U of A. In a previous life, I owned a bookstore in Berkeley and ran the Central Receiving operation at UC Berkeley for 5 years.
It is a thrill for me to introduce you to Sky Islands. Our staff is experienced and smart and we work well together as a team. Also, we laugh a lot. When you come to Sky Islands, you can expect to see a bit of creative disorder at any time of the school day. At least we hope so. But also people working together quietly in small groups, on projects, or off-campus in the desert, at any museum, or service work. Together we have to make the world that we want to live in.
I have worked in and around schools most of my adult life, in positions from School Nurse to Director of Operations for a large California school district. Thinking I’d retired, I moved to Tucson and, as fate would have it, crossed paths with the founder of Sky Islands. The opportunity to be a part of that adventure ended my retirement plans. I believe in the youth of today and have confidence that, if given the opportunity to make a difference, they will rise to the challenge and make a positive difference.
I am a native of Puerto Rico and speak both Spanish and English fluently. At the tender age of two I became a world traveler, and have lived and traveled widely in and out of the United States. Living abroad has given me an expansive look at life, a deep appreciation for its contours, and an ability to adapt. Helping our students to acquire that openness and desire to experience the fullness of life is a good part of what I want to do at Sky Islands. I am convinced that taking students beyond their familiar zones enriches their lives, and teaches tolerance and acceptance of diversity in ways that nothing else can.
As the Associate Director of Sky Islands since the school’s launch in 2008, I pride myself in working well with both students and parents. I make it hard for things to get past me and firmly enforce our Code of Conduct, the glue that holds the educational program in place. Despite my earned reputation as the “hammer” of the school, I have been known to feed a student or two when the sudden hunger pangs hit hard, hand out bus money, or provide a friendly ear and gentle counseling. Students do seek me out because they know I value each of them for who they are and what they bring to Sky Islands. Our collective goal is to support and guide them towards what they want their future to be, and to provide them with the confidence, skill, and habits to get there.
Lucas is a founding teacher at Sky Islands and has been instrumental in developing the science curriculum and the overall integrated educational program. He has degrees from the University of Colorado at Boulder in American Studies and Ethnic Studies, and is a Highly Qualified science teacher. He is a graduate of a 35-year old alternative school in Denver, and taught integrated science classes in charter schools in Tucson for 4 years prior to joining Sky Islands. Lucas is responsible for developing the astrobiology, enthnobotany, ecology, food biology and earth science courses, as well as the school garden and many outdoor projects.
Lucas is a proficient speaker of Japanese, conversational Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and he speaks various African dialects. He is a master gardener and has introduced students to organic, healthful foods. Expect his classes to go outside and bring the outside in— science at Sky Islands will open your eyes and minds to our living world, and especially the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.
Simon has been teaching mathematics, including AIMS math, at Sabino and Palo Verde high schools since 2004. He is an award-winning math teacher, recognized by the State of Arizona as one of the highest performing math teachers. His students regularly pass the math AIMS under his practical instruction. He has a BA in Environmental Education from Prescott College, and a post-graduate teacher certification in mathematics from Pima Community College.
Simon is originally from the UK, and commissioned with rank of Flight Lieutenant (Captain) in the Royal Air Force/RAF. He has commanded the RAF Stafford Mountain Rescue Team and captained the RAF hockey team. He has been responsible for outdoor education in wilderness settings, including rock climbing and rappelling, hiking and camping. In the Tucson area, Simon developed the VisonQuest wilderness program as part of the environmental education curriculum, and he has been a crew leader with the Youth Corps of Southern Arizona/YCOSA. Simon brings math alive in and out of the classroom, helping students tame their mathematical monsters, and disproving the existence of a math gene.
Sky Islands welcomes Brianne McConnell to the faculty for the 2012-2013 school year. She is a graduate of University of Arizona, with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and pre-major in English. In 1999 she was nominated for the Mark Finley Journalism Award, and in 2000 she received a James Duncan Scholars Award from the UA Journalism Department.
Brianne has supervised testing and made coursework accommodations for students with disabilities at the UA. She interned for 3 years at Pima Community College in the Community and Media Relations Department, and she was the Publications Director/Communications Specialist for the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association for 5 years. Additionally, Brianne comes to us with successful teaching experience in two Tucson charter high schools. Her classes included War Literature, No Fear Shakespeare, Journalism, Creative Writing and Poetry, and Black and White Photography, and of course conventional English language usage. Brianne’s confidence and teaching skills convey a similar confidence to her students. And it has been said that she plays a pretty mean viola.
Will is a native of Aspen, Colorado and a strong advocate for wilderness travel and environmental responsibility. He has a Bachelor of Arts in History from Brown University and a Masters in Secondary Education from the University of Arizona.
He has led Outward Bound trips through Moab, Utah–rafting, kayaking, backpacking and rock climbing–and coordinated the Outward Bound sea kayaking base in Baja California, Mexico. He has also taught redwood forest ecology and led week-long backpacking trips with young adults in Joshua Tree National Park and Sequoia National Forest. Will came to Tucson in spring 2007 to work as communications associate for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Will’s deep interest in the historical and ecological issues surrounding the U.S. / Mexico border area is integrated throughout the social studies curriculum, and all of his travels add a unique first-hand perspective to his teaching of history, geography, government, and garden ecology. Ask him about his summer trip to Kenya!
SPANISH LANGUAGE AND DRAFTING AND DESIGN
Señor Rafael brings Spanish language classes to Sky Islands for the first time. A native of Guatemala, he has been a Tucson resident for over 25 years. Rafael completed a 4-year course of study in the College of Architecture at Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala, Guatemala City, and he received a Translation/Interpretation Studies Certificate in 2012 from Pima Community College. In 2011- 2012 he taught Spanish using the highly-regarded Total Physical Response (TPR) method of language instruction.
For 25 years, Señor Rafael has practiced both commercial and residential architectural designing, working as a structural draftsman with TLCP Structural and Grenier Engineering in Tucson. He will offer Sky Islands’ first Drafting and Drawing class, partnered with the Building with Earth class. Students in that class can expect to learn both English and Spanish words for the details in their structural and landscape drawings. Additionally, Rafael is a musician and song writer and plans to play lead guitar, bass or drums (if he can borrow some) in the Faculty Lounge band.