Teacher & Parent Information

Everything that teachers, parents and other adult volunteers should know to prepare for a visit to Camp Cooper!

Use this page along with our Camp Dos & Don’ts and the page for your chosen program: Earthkeepers, or Field Trips & Overnights.

  • The Cooper Center for Environmental Learning is situated on a 10-acre desert campus

    that borders Tucson Mountain Park. We host our programs outside from September to

    May. Please be aware that temperatures outdoors in the Sonoran desert can rise above

    90 degrees in the Fall and Spring, and drop below 40 degrees in the Winter months.

    Please be prepared with sun protection and water at any time of year. We host programs

    rain or shine; check the weather before your visit.


    For most programs we use trails that begin in camp and venture out into Tucson

    Mountain Park. These trails can be rocky and steep in some places and require moving

    up and down stairs. For half-full day programs students may find themselves walking up

    to 1.5 miles. However, no single activity follows a trail for more than a mile at a time. The most popular loop we use is ½ a mile. To get to almost all trails participants will start by going down 13 steps with no railing, once on the trail there is a variety of terrain from sandy to rocky. Among the trail there are 10 more uneven steps with no railing to get up/down to the desert and 13 steps with no railing to get out/into the wash, as well as 5 additional steps to get out/in the wash.


    The Cooper Center does have a small set of trails inside camp that are relatively flat with

    wheelchair accessible areas. Be aware that access to all camp buildings, including the bathroom, is through thick gravel impassable to most wheelchairs and walkers without assistance.


    Accommodations to program locations can be made with advance notice to Cooper staff

    for students or personnel who may use wheelchairs or experience difficulty walking on rugged terrain. 

All groups need to arrange their own transportation, by bus or otherwise. If you’re new to this, contact us and we can help!

TUSD School Busses

  • Check with your office manager on scheduling – TUSD requires six weeks' notice.
  • Submit a written request to your transportation department ASAP.
  • Plan to arrive at Camp Cooper at 10 AM for unloading in the bus bay.
  • Use this street address for the camp: 5403 W. Trails End Rd., Tucson, AZ, 85745
  • Double-check your reservation before your trip!
  • Ask your first driver for an ETA on later pick-up and arrival back at school.
  • Consider bringing at least one private car for supplies and unexpected needs.

Private Vehicles

  • Parking is limited so please carpool and fill each vehicle to capacity.

  • Have drivers map to 5403 W. Trails End Rd. 

  • Note that our entrance gate is just west of our exit gate.

  • Park in spaces on the north side of the bus bay unless you have special needs.

  • For greater accessibility or if you have cumbersome supplies, drive into camp to unload – the road is at the east end of the bay.

  • Make sure all students have reusable water bottles. Reusable water bottles will be provided upon arrival should a student need one. 
  • Attend Earthkeepers or Single Day Orientation and hold a Chaperone meeting prior to the trip. 
  • You are always welcome to schedule a visit to the Cooper Center.

For Full-Day and Overnight field trips you’ll need to assign students to groups. Cooper staff will provide information on how students should be grouped depending on the program.

Student name tags will help our volunteers and staff

  • Tags hung around the neck work best. Stickers tend to fall off and end up in the desert. 
  • Names should be large enough to read from a distance.
  • Use colors, stickers, cabin names, etc to make tags useful and fun.
  • Please arrive at 10AM for Single Day and Overnight experiences. 
  • Staff will be in the parking lot ready to greet you! 
  • Have students carry down their personal items – it gives them a sense of leaving behind their “ordinary world” and embarking on a new experience!
  • Cooper staff will direct all food to the kitchen and personal items for overnight trips will be stowed in the cabin.

For Earthkeepers Programs and Overnights, you have the option to bring your own food or contract with TUSD Food services to serve food on-site.

For all other programs, plan to bring your own food. Most groups bring sack lunches, but we do have grills (bring charcoal) and a kitchen you can use.

  • Bring lunch for a half-day program.
  • Bring lunch and afternoon snacks for full-day programs.
  • Bring lunch, snacks and dinner for an overnight program.
  • Please use our dishes, cups and utensils -- no need to bring disposables.
  • All meals and snacks should be eaten at Large Ramada and Amphitheater area.

Field Trips and Overnights have half an hour for lunch.  – please plan accordingly if you’d like to use the kitchen or grills (your volunteers can prep during morning activities so food will be ready in time).

For full-day trips, we also recommend students have a snack in the afternoon. For overnight trips, dinner can be served anytime after programs end and Cooper staff depart, usually around 4:30pm. 

You may want to involve students in planning or preparing meals. For Overnight trips, food prep can become one of the Activity Center Rotations in the afternoon.

For overnight programs, students love a campfire in our giant fire pit! We have just 3 main campfire rules:

  • Bring your own firewood, and don’t allow kids to gather wood from the camp. (We are always accepting firewood donations!)
  • Don’t burn pressed logs, which can release toxic chemicals.
  • Leave everything in the pit when you’re done and make sure the fire is fully extinguished using our water hose before going to bed.

For Overnight trips and the Earthkeepers program, we have 6 sleeping cabins, named for desert plants: Jojoba, Nopal, Mesquite, Palo Verde, Ocotillo and Cholla.

Each cabin can sleep 2 adults and up to 10 students. We highly recommend 2 adults per cabin so that there is always at least 1 adult present. Some things to note:

  • No food or drink, aside from water, are allowed in the cabins. 
  • Cabins have no cooling or heat – use our packing checklists to be well prepared

For some kids, your trip will be their first night away from home! For many, it’s their first night in nature, and night noises may be unsettling.

For young campers, suggest that parents send familiar (i.e. comforting!) blankets, PJs, etc. rather than packing something new.

Camp Cooper is exciting! Consider a story to calm kids down before bed. You may want to continue a story started at school. If doing a story:

  • Share copies for volunteers to read in each cabin, rather than in one group.

Some parents are reluctant to have their child spend the night “out in the desert.”

If a parent won’t allow a child to spend the night, ask if the child can stay for the day and be picked up before bed. We’re also happy to give parents a tour at your request if it would help settle their concerns!

We ask that you clean up after meals or snacks and before leaving camp.

  • Please follow our clean-up checklists

  • Do assign duties to everyone so kids learn responsibility and the importance of taking care of our natural spaces! We’ll inspect all locations before you head out.

A visit to the Cooper Center is a school event! This means:

  • School rules and policies apply throughout, including during transport

  • Teachers are on duty and “at work” for the duration of the trip

  • Student supervision is ultimately a teacher’s responsibility, helped by your volunteers and our staff

Please note that even for activities led by camp staff or your volunteers, teachers should be on hand to help with behavioral issues and to participate in the learning experience for reference once back at school.

Every year, some groups need to shorten or cancel a trip because their volunteers back out at the last minute. Let your volunteers know how much they matter!

  • Adult volunteers are always welcomed at no cost.
  • Aim for at least 1 adult per 10 students for Field Trips, 1 per 6 for Overnights.
  • Choose assertive, responsible parents for sleeping cabins.
  • Assign alternates for Activity Center assignments if possible, just in case.

Meet with your volunteers at least a week in advance to help them prepare:

  • Tell them about Camp Cooper.
  • Go over transportation and schedule logistics.
  • Make clear how and when you’ll need their help.
  • Review our Camp Dos & Don’ts together.
  • Discuss what student behaviors are not OK and how you’ll deal with them.
  • Assign Activity Center duties and review lesson plans.

When you meet with your volunteers, also go over a few simple rules:

  • No smoking, drinking or pets.
  • Long pants and closed toed shoes required (for safety!)
  • Phones are distracting during activities. Volunteers can step away to make phone calls. 

If your child is attending Earthkeepers and you will be coming along as a chaperone or volunteer below is information that will assist you in your time at The Cooper Center.

Your presence is very important for the success of the trip. It is important that you meet with your teacher before the trip to help with planning. Most parent meetings will happen 4 weeks before the trip. During this meeting teachers will also go over much of the information below with you:

  • Background information about the Cooper facility.
  • Transportation to and from Cooper.
  • Overview of the Earthkeeper Program goals and schedule (please make sure the adult volunteers don’t give away what is going to happen).
  • Rules and expectations for your students and behavior management.
  • Cooper Center Agreements
  • Smoking or drinking alcohol is not permitted on TUSD property.
  • Long pants and closed toed shoes are required.
  • No cell phone use during all educational activities (pictures are okay!)
  • Pets are not allowed.
  • Please no younger siblings during the program. The trails are not suitable for strollers, and most trips are filled to student capacity. Families are encouraged to join for mealtimes. 
  • 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).

Suggested Packing List

Click here for the suggested packing list to ensure you and your student are as prepared as possible.

Students should know what to expect and what’s expected of them during their visit! Before your trip, talk to your students about:

  • Camp Cooper and why you’re visiting.
  • How we’re an educational center and extension of school.
  • Schedules and activities.
  • Camp Dos & Don’ts
  • Clean-up and why it matters.
  • Packing checklists for what to wear and bring.
  • How to behave for safety and fun for all.

Students should also know they’ll be walking trails, stopping for activities along the way. Our hiking trails are no more than ¾ mile long, but our activities last 1-1.5hours long and the terrain can be rocky. You may want to prepare them by taking them on walks in advance, getting used to the exercise and using their senses for observation!

Problem Behavior

For many kids, being outdoors with friends in a new environment is energizing. Some students may be more loud, active or “rambunctious” than you’re used to.

We encourage you to let small behavioral issues go, but at the same time, we want all our visitors to have a great experience.

Please have a plan for dealing with behavior that could ruin an experience for the larger group. This might mean “time out” with a volunteer or even sending a student home. Let students know beforehand what behaviors will earn more serious consequences.

The Cooper Center for Environmental Learning does not provide insurance for injuries during your visit.

  • For teachers and staff, any injury during your visit are work-related as if at school.
  • TUSD covers injuries for designated volunteers under workman’s compensation.
  • Student injuries are covered only by school or personal policies.
  • Half Day field trips depart at 1PM.
  • Full Day Field Trips depart at 4:30PM.
  • Overnight Field Trips depart at 9:30AM the following morning. 
  • For Earthkeepers trips, plan to depart at 1 PM on the 3rd day.
  • If you need to request special arrangements for departures, let us know!
  • Take photos to capture the experience.
  • Let us know if you need ideas for nighttime activities.
  • Stay positive – students will follow your lead!
  • Contact us at any time -- we’re here to help!