The Cooper Center for Environmental Learning has gone through many changes over the last 60 plus years, but it has always been a place where Tucson students experience and learn about the great outdoors.
The History and Purpose of the Cooper Center
In the 1950's a TUSD administrator, Herbert Cooper, was assigned the job of purchasing new school sites for Tucson District #1, as TUSD was then designated. Rather than finding sites after the District was faced with the need for a new school, Mr. Cooper, with the aid of the City and County, projected school populations, and acquired land over the following years, saving the TUSD millions of dollars. In addition, the Federal government withheld from future sale or use ten-acre sites that the District could acquire when the need was shown. Cooper Environmental Science Campus was one of those sites. As populations advanced to the east side, it was evident the Cooper land was not to become a school anytime soon. In the mid-60's when Title I programs offered the possibility for expanding nature study in an outdoor education setting, a number of educators realized the potential of the site. Soon, a project began that brought students from west side schools to the site for a morning of nature study activities. At that time the District built the bathroom/storage building, amphitheater, large ramada, cookout grill, and concrete slabs on which tents could be placed. The cabins were built on those slabs in 1972 and the site was designated "Camp Cooper".
In the mid-1970’s, the new, bare cabins were transformed into kitchen, classroom, office, and sleeping areas by site director Jody Simmons. Doris Evans became the Camp Cooper Resource Teacher in the fall of 1989 and the name was changed to Cooper Environmental Science Campus (CESC), better reflecting the purpose of the program. In May 2001, Doris retired and Kathy Lloyd took over the reins as the new CESC Resource Teacher, managing its programs until May 2008.
On May 13th, 2008, the TUSD Governing Board voted in favor of a valuable new partnership between the University of Arizona and the District. While TUSD maintained ownership of the property, the University’s Department of Teaching and Teacher Education hired staff to run the day-to-day operations and renamed the site the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning.
In addition to the full-time staff at the Cooper Center, there are also opportunities for University of Arizona graduate and undergraduate students to work at the facility and to participate in environmental learning experiences. While many of Cooper’s successful teaching strategies, lessons, and activities will continue, the partnership with the University of Arizona has provided new program offerings for students of all ages, allowed for non-TUSD schools and groups to be included in Cooper Center experiences, given undergraduates in the College of Education’s teacher preparation program opportunities to experience outdoor learning, and opened the door for additional funding sources to help sustain the Cooper Center for future generations.