Can you believe it’s already almost been three weeks?! After a week of orientation in the speckled shade of Prescott’s Ponderosa pines and four days paddling down the emerald waters of the Colorado River’s Black Canyon, we have settled into the Biosphere 2’s casitas outside of Tucson to dive deeper into classes. 

In History, we set the stage for the course through readings that touched on the founding narratives of the United States and discussed what our national story is, how it came to be, and what we want it to be. We had the pleasure of getting a private tour of Prescott’s Indigenous People Museum by the assistant director himself, who touched on the history of the peoples of the region and wove in his own story and identity as a Cherokee/Tsalagi. This experience nicely kicked off our next unit on Indigeneity, in which we discuss what it means to be Indigenous in this country, learn about cultural values and practices across Native culture and distinguish the various nations of the region. 

In Literature, we looked at Natalie Diaz’s poetry, from her award-winning “Postcolonial Love Poem” to her meditations on water in “The First Water is the Body.” We listened to an interview with Diaz as we drove by her Native homeland on our way to go canoeing down the Colorado river. We continued to reflect on our relationship with water in preparation for writing the “I Am From” poem in which the students write a personal piece about their own upbringing and background that we look forward to hearing as a group. 

We had plenty to learn and experience in Science class surrounding our stay at and tour of Biosphere 2, an American Earth system science research facility with a wild backstory. We learned about biomes and the five levels of ecology just in time to walk through the Biosphere 2’s re-creation of mangrove wetlands, a tropical rainforest, savanna grassland, the ocean, and a fog desert. Highlights included seeing sea urchins in the ocean (which, according to Gracie, Taylor Swift is afraid of, fun fact!) and the nighttime astronomy lesson when they witnessed space trash streaking across the sky!

In Global Studies, we studied Paolo Freire’s concept of banking education, contrasting it with liberatory education theory, critical-thinking, and problem posing education. Also inspired by Freire, we considered what it means to “read the world” as we dive into what place-based and experiential means – learning to reflect on, process, critique, and engage with everything around us. We began to meld this reading of the world and our academics by writing our first “Reaction, Reflection, Question, Response” or RRQ, an assignment that asks students to react and reflect on a pivotal moment or realization from their week in writing.  

How do students feel about these new, experiential, place-based classes? Take it from them:

Lawson says she’s “enjoying all these classes because it’s not just pages from any textbook, we’re actually learning about [people’s] emotions and the story behind that so we get a full picture of everything.”

Meanwhile, Bec is “feeling engaged and empowered by academic classes because my teachers are inclusive in their teaching philosophy and they adapt our classes to our environments.”  

Bronwnyn adds, “we are encountering so many opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t have in our regular schools, like our experiences here at the biosphere and from Kai, the man who is creating a Mars habitat here on earth which was so interesting, and being able to hear his story was so inspiring.”

Stay tuned as we travel to the U.S. – Mexico border and learn about some of the many human and ecological issues of the border region!