Sunship III (7-8)


SUNSHIP III – Information For Teachers



Length of Cooper Visit: 3 days and 2 nights

Offered:  November and December

Grades: 7th and 8th Grades

Max Students: 20 – 40 Students

Fee:  $60/student (meals included)

Program Goal:  To celebrate the transition from childhood through adolescence into adulthood, to focus on perception and choice in our daily habits and routines, to explore and discover the larger context of where and how we live, and to examine alternatives and make sacrifices for a healthier home planet.




Below is a more in-depth description of this program and what to expect. Certain things are kept secret and only teachers are allowed to know them. Therefore, there are more details for pre-visit information as well as during the program that teachers will receive. Please read all the way to the bottom to be prepared for your trip. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to Contact Us.

Table of Contents:

Click on any of the links to bring you to that section




Pre-visit Logistics:

There are many more details for Pre-Visit Logistics than just what is listed below. If you are a teacher you may request these details through the Cooper Center Staff by Contacting Us.

Trip Registration:

A maximum of 6 sessions of Sunship III are offered each fall in November and December, each with a maximum of 40 students. Scheduling for these trips occurs in August and early September with the Registration deadline usually in the first week of September. Spots fill up quickly, so you will want to register as early as possible.

Teacher Orientation

If you have never done SUNSHIP III at the Cooper Center, you must attend an informational SUNSHIP III Orientation (see link for available orientations), which is held at the beginning of each school year to acquaint you with the program and facility. Even if you have done SUNSHIP III before it may be a good idea to attend the orientation again, as there is much information and our experience is such that it takes more than one trip to get comfortable with the program.

Pre-visit Supplies and Activities

The Cooper Center will send you all of the materials needed to prepare your students for the program. One of the key aspects to making this a successful experience for your students is making sure they feel that the materials are individualized for each of them. It will be very important to make sure that each envelope containing the necessary materials has the student’s name on it. Therefore, we need all the names (first and last) of the student who will be participating ASAP and no later than 6 weeks prior to your trip. This is very important so we can personalize their items and get them to the students on time.  Teachers that sign up for the program will get a detailed explanation of the pre-visit supplies at the orientation.


Cooper Center Experience:


There are many more details for during the trip that teachers need to know. However, we can't give away the secrets! So, if you are a teacher you can request more details of what goes on for the three days at the Cooper Center by Contacting Us.


Sample Schedule of Events: Times are approximate


DAY 1 - Tuesday

10:00 am  -  Arrival

10:30 am – Orientation and Registration

12:00 pm – Lunch

1:00-5:00pm - Program

  5:15 pm  -  Dinner

6:00-8:30 pm - Program

8:30 - 9:00 pm  -  Cooper Staff Leaves


DAY 2 - Wednesday

7:30 am  -  Breakfast

8:30 am - 12:00 pm – Program

12:00 pm  -  Lunch

1:00 - 5:00pm – Program

5:15 pm  -  Dinner

6:00-8:30 pm - Program

8:30 - 9:00 pm  -  Cooper Staff Leaves


DAY 3 - Thursday

7:30 am  -  Breakfast

8:30 am - 12:00 pm – Program

12:00 pm  -  Lunch

12:30 pm – Clean-up

1:00 - 1:30 pm  -  Departure


Clean up and site maintenance:

You and your students are responsible for sweeping, picking up trash, taking out the trash and recycling, cleaning the sleeping cabins, kitchen, bathrooms ramadas, classroom and the grounds. It is an important lesson to have all students pitch-in with chores. Assign duties to everyone. A Cooper Staff Member will come around and inspect all of these locations to make sure everything is cleaned. Students will be asked to re-do any chores not done properly or completely. Click on the link to see the Cleanup Checklist in English and Spanish.  Notify Cooper Center staff if extra bathroom or kitchen supplies are needed during the trip.



Trip Logistics:


Teacher Responsibilities

All supervision of students is your responsibility, with the help of field trip volunteers and Cooper Center staff.  A visit to the Cooper Center is a school event. All rules and policies in effect during the school day are in effect during the entire duration of the field trip, including during transportation time and overnight.

Parents and others who sign in as volunteers are covered under Workman’s Compensation by TUSD. Work-related injuries that occur at the site are dealt with as they would be at school, and Cooper Center staff are CPR and First Aid trained. Student injuries are not covered except by personal insurance or other policies, as they would be covered at school. Teachers are on duty and at work during the duration of the stay.

Generic permission forms in English and Spanish can be found at these links. Bring the Permission Forms with you to the Cooper Center. The completed form will be helpful if an emergency were to occur.


You must schedule and provide funding for your own transportation. This may be parent vehicles, a private bus, or a school bus. Transportation logistics can be found at this link. In some cases, the Cooper Center can assist with funding for buses. Click here for the Fundraising Checklist to help raise funds and please contact the Cooper Center staff for more information.

Physical Disabilities

The Cooper Center can accommodate students and adults with physical disabilities.  Please contact the Cooper Center well in advance of your trip to notify them of your needs. Jojoba and Nopal cabins are wheelchair-accessible, as are the kitchen, classroom, bathrooms, and group ramada.

Adult Volunteers

It is important that you meet with your adult volunteers a week or more before the trip and impress upon them how important they are to the success of the Cooper Center experience. Sadly, each year a few groups must shorten or cancel their trip because adult volunteers back out at the last minute. Adult volunteers need to be properly informed, prepared, and involved in the experience, given specific roles to accomplish, etc.  We recommend that least two adults during the day and at least one adult per cabin (2 is preferred) be present.  A few weeks prior to your trip, meet with the parents of your students, including the adult volunteers, for the trip and inform them of the following:

  • Background information about the Cooper facility
  • Plans for getting to Cooper from school and for cleaning Cooper and returning to school
  • Overview of the SUNSHIP III Program goals and Schedule (please make sure the adult volunteers don’t give away about what is going to happen)
  • Sharing circles and how they work (parental involvement is not allowed)
  • Participation expected in activities while on site
  • Quest and how you’ll need their help (this is a HUGE part; see Quest section below)
  • Cooper Center Rules
  • Rules and expectations you have for your students, your methods of discipline, and the behavior management philosophies that Cooper Center staff will use
  • Smoking or drinking alcohol is not permitted on TUSD property
  • Long pants and closed toed shoes are required
  • Turn off cell phones during all educational activities
  • Pets are not allowed
  • Please, no shade umbrellas or walking sticks (except if medically necessary) during the experiences in the desert. They interfere with our observations and distract the students
  • No younger children. Crying babies distract from lessons, paths are not suitable for strollers, and the terrain and desert plants are a hazard to toddlers. The parents also cannot adequately supervise the students if they must tend to a young child
  • Assign assertive, responsible parents to the sleeping cabins and insist they be with the students any time the students are in the cabins.
  • Make sure they have appropriate clothing and sleeping gear (warm enough, there is no heating in the cabins)

Student Expectations:

The students should be well aware of what to expect during their visit. This includes background information about the facility and the program, the purpose of this visit, the rules, your expectations of their behavior, cleanup procedures, and what to bring (clothing, bedding, water bottle, hat, sunscreen, etc). Emphasize that the Cooper Center is an educational center and the activities are an extension of the school curriculum.

We want every student in your class to be a part of the Cooper experience. That being said, behavior problems can spoil a trip for everyone. Work out a procedure for sending an uncooperative student back to the center with an adult during activities or, in extreme cases, back to school or home. The permission form will help with contacting parents. Let students know the type of behavior that will cause them to be sent away from the center.  Students who are challenging in the school setting may thrive in the non-traditional settings of the Cooper Center.

Explain the cleanup procedures and the importance of these chores. Cooper Center has no maintenance or custodial personnel. It is kept clean and tidy by those who use it. Be sure that students understand that everyone participates in cleanup. Responsible outdoor persons always leave the site better than they found it.

Water bottles are mandatory. Please be sure before you leave school that EVERY student has a water bottle. We also have reusable water bottles for sale. We strongly recommend reusable water bottles as they are much more environmentally-friendly than disposable and will last the duration of the trip.

Set up Cabins:

Students will start moving into their cabins after Orientation. There are 6 sleeping cabins: Jojoba, Nopal, Mesquite, Palo Verde, Ocotillo, and Cholla. Description of the cabins can be found here. There is enough room for 10 students and 2 adults per cabin. We suggest having 2 adults per cabin because there needs to be an adult in the cabin at all times and if in the middle of the night someone needs to use the bathroom you don’t want to have to wake up everyone. We also suggest that the teachers don’t stay in the cabins with the students so that you can be available for any issues during the night. Students need to make sure they will sleep comfortably (i.e. sleeping bags, blankets, sheets); the cabins are not heated or cooled. No food is allowed the cabins but water is permitted.


Do’s and Don’ts:

The Dos:

  • Bring cameras to capture the experience!
  • Use reusables as a part of your environmental lessons to discourage the use of throwaway items such as plastic bags and bottled water containers.
  • Keep a positive attitude. The students feed off of the energy that adults give off.
  • Let small behavioral things go.
  • Call or email us with any questions or concerns at any time. We are here to help!

The Don’ts:

  • Please don’t give the students any work beyond Sunship III during the program. Our days are incredibly full and outside work can distract from the experience.
  • Please don’t allow students to make their own trails, especially behind the cabins. We are trying to re-vegetate and it is dangerous.
  • Please don’t complain about the weather. If the students overhear you or your volunteers complaining about the “long, hot, cold, wet or tiring walk,” they may pick up on that attitude and it will make the walk less enjoyable for everyone.


After an exciting day, students may need to be calmed down for bedtime. One suggestion is to begin reading a story to the class prior to the trip. It may sound childish, but it is helpful and effective, especially if you use books that share our message (ex. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg, etc.). Give copies of the story to the adults supervising the cabins so they may continue the story before bedtime. There is to be no scary or ghost story-telling at any time. Some students have not spent a night away from home/in the desert before and may become frightened by night noises. In addition, we want the students to develop a positive feeling about the outdoors and not be fearful of it.


After Trip Logistics: The Quest


Upon leaving the Cooper Center, students begin their ‘Quest’, a special set of learning adventures guided by you. The Quest is the most important component of SUNSHIP III. In a sense everything in the program is designed to prepare and motivate young teens to interact with other people who are trying to live alternative more sustainable lifestyle. If the perceptual part of the program succeeds, the participants will see those they visit as representing choices that can be made in their own lives. To help guide them, the students receive a Quest map of their community and use their SUNSHIP III Ledger. There are four major parts to the Quest: (1) Visiting natural places to experience new Sections Of Life, (2) Interviewing people that are working on living more in harmony with the Earth either on their own or as part of a business or community organization, (3) participating in environmentally-focused community action, and (4) Making individual lifestyle choices to live more harmoniously with the Earth and its life.  The Quest ends with a return to Cooper and the Temple of SOL for a celebration of each student’s achievements. Students have a Quest page at this link to help them keep on track.

Sharing Circles:

Teachers should observe and participate in the sharing circles at the Cooper Center. This is a chance to learn how the sharing circles are led because back to school you will be the one facilitating the sharing circles. Click here for a description of How To Run Sharing Circles. The sharing circles should help students with each step of completing the Quest, especially the interviews and crafting their own personal lifestyles. Doing the community action plan as a sharing circle is a great idea.

Visiting Natural Places:

During the Temple of Sol story reading each student receives a pouch containing three natural objects: a pinecone, a river stone, and a feather. These objects represent different Sections Of Life.  Students need to return each of these objects to a natural area where they belong. (Example – river rock to Sabino Canyon/someplace with running water, pinecone to the mountains, etc). To try and assist with transportation, the Cooper Center will be providing field trips to Mt. Lemmon (upon request) during the spring semester to return the pinecone. While returning each object, students should have a minimum 20 minute-long magic spot and record their thoughts and perceptions about that natural area in their Ledger. Afterwards, they can receive a stamp in their Ledger from you.

Interviews: Students will need to interview three people, one for each of the categories listed below:

  • Using energy and materials wisely
  • Demonstrating care for natural places and things
  • Developing a deeper personal relationship with the Earth

Students will ask these people what they are doing personally to “live more lightly” and then record what they learn in their ledgers. After the interview, the person visited stamps the students' Ledgers, or if they do not have a stamp you can review their Ledger and stamp it for them. You will need to work with your students in their Sharing Circles on how to conduct an interview. You are also allowed to have one or two of the interviewees come to the school – just remember that the idea behind the Quest is to get the students out into the world around them. Make sure the students are the ones conducting the interview and not you; this is for them to earn. The Quest Booklet link shows all the community partners that we have in Tucson, and you will also receive an interview guide before you leave the Cooper Center. If you know of a different person or community partner please feel free to use them and ask if they would be willing to become a Community Partner with the Cooper Center.

Community Action:

This can take many forms.  Ideally, the students work within the class and their Sharing Circles to create a project of their own, whether it is within the school, their neighborhood, or the larger community.  It can also be done individually or within the framework of another organization (church, business, community organization, government agency, etc.)

Crafting Personal Lifestyle:

When everything else has been completed (returning natural objects, interviews) the participants decide what to do in each of the four categories below to begin crafting their own personal lifestyle. They will record these choices in their Ledger.

  • Using energy and materials wisely
  • Demonstrating care for natural places and things
  • Developing a deeper personal relationship with the Earth
  • Environmental planning and action (this can be done as a group or individually).

Return to Cooper:

After the Quest is complete, students can 'graduate' from the SUNSHIP III Program by returning to the Cooper Center and the Temple of SOL. This event is typically held in the beginning of May. Students will be asked to share key moments of their Quest and will receive a SOL medallion. Students can attend the event even if they are still working on their own Quest, allowing them to hear stories from the achievements of their peers.  If students are unable to return to the Cooper Center, they can send their Ledgers to the Center and the staff will return the Ledger with a SOL medallion to them by mail to recognize the completion of the Quest.

Other Quest Topics:


There have been some issues with getting students to places to fulfill their Quests. Please know that we understand these constraints. This is why it will be important to talk about the Quest with parents and other adult volunteers weeks prior to even the trip to the Cooper Center. Encourage use of public transportation if possible. We will also try to assist with transportation for returning the pinecone to Mt. Lemmon during a few weekends from Jan - April. Contact Us about scheduling.

Post Survey:

In order to learn if this program is completing its goals, we will need you to administer another survey just like the one you did during the pre-visit period. This will help us determine if there were any changes in the students’ perception and/or choices. These will be given to you as you leave the Cooper Center and collected during the spring semester.

Quest Planning Meeting

Approximately two weeks after your trip to the Cooper Center, especially if this is your first Sunship III experience, our staff will come to your school to help with Quest preparation and implementation.  This does not mean that you must wait until this meeting to begin your Quest; only that we want to offer as much assistance as possible.  This meeting will be scheduled before you leave the Cooper Center to return to school.

Other Notes:

Please know that the Quest is difficult, and we know it is. Students need to really want to complete it. It will be up to you as a teacher to decide how much assistance you give your students. If you are unsure of how much assistance to give, Contact Us or other teachers on the list serve. Teachers are constantly trying new strategies to make the Quest more successful.  It is important to remember that we expect this program to be a challenge and it is very unlikely that all of your students will succeed.

Sunship III is a challenging and rewarding experience for you and your students. It takes place over the course of the entire school year. Many of your questions will be answered during the Teacher Orientation; many more will be answered along the journey as you travel with your students on their experience. Contact Us at any time with questions, comments, or concerns.