Learn about the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning which turns the Tucson Mountains into an environmental science classroom.

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Photo: AZPM

Teacher Voices: Colin Waite and Mike Mayer

Colin Waite, assistant director (left), and Mike Mayer, director of the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning (right)

There are many different ways to learn.

Since the 1960s, the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning has been guided by this mantra.

Their mission has been to offer outdoors educational experiences that take students out of the classroom and through the trails of the Tucson Mountains.

"The Cooper Center is a pretty unique place," said Colin Waite, Assistant Director of the Cooper Center, a partnership between the University of Arizona College of Education and the Tucson Unified School District.

"We get a chance to see somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 students in grades K through 8 in a given school year and we get to share the wonders of the Sonoran desert with them. We get to teach them basic ecological concepts like relationships between plants and animals and adaptations for living in a desert."

Introducing young minds to the natural word creates a pathway to learning that isn't tied to a desk.

"When that tone is set in a very positive (and) open way for exploration, learning is going to take place," said Mike Mayer, Director of the Cooper Center.

"The emotional part, that feeling good about yourself, feeling open, getting rid of some of those barriers to learning... (is) just going to improve the long-term retention that takes place. I think we have such an opportunity at the Cooper Center because as soon as they get off the bus there is an emotional experience. They're out of school. They're outdoors. They're in this beautiful setting and we want them to not only have a good time but to have a good learning experience."

The center has become such a huge part of Tucson's educational history that now a second generation of students whose parents went through the program are now getting their chance to become better stewards of our natural surroundings.

This week, hear Mike Mayer speak with Colin Waite about the impact that he has felt from two generations of students.

Download as MP3

To hear more stories, visit the Teachers' Voices archive.

(Funding for the production of Teachers' Voices is provided by Wells Fargo and the University of Arizona College of Education. The series is produced by Matt Felix for Arizona Spotlight.)