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Did you go to Camp Cooper in Tucson? Here's what it's like in 2019

Posted at 5:04 PM, Jun 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 05:46:19-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Did you go to "Camp Cooper" in Tucson?

The Cooper Center for Environmental Learning opened in 1964. In 55 years more than 130,000 students have visited the camp.

The classroom is the Sonoran Desert on the far west side of Tucson.

"Oh my goodness in the last 55 years this place has changed incredibly," said program coordinator Kelli Mccune. "About 10 or so years ago the U of A College of Education became involved and took over the operations, so we ended up developing programs that were grade-specific."

The Cooper Center is a partnership between the Tucson Unified School District and the University of Arizona College of Education.

The center offers programs for K-8 students from across the state. They can go on day trips or stay overnight.

"It was really cool getting to be in nature," said soon-to-be 7th grader Joseph Cruze. "The quiet spots were really fun where we just got to sit and draw about the environment and write. That was really fun."

The cabins were built in the 1970's, but have been upgraded.

All of the buildings are named after desert plants like "jojoba," "nepal," and "palo verde."

"We are a center that strives to teach students about Sonoran Desert ecology and all the great things that this desert has to offer," Mccune said.

They learn through hands-on experience. That includes hikes, campfires, and the chance to meet animals like kingsnakes.

By the end campers should know know how to responsibly and respectfully interact with nature.

"We do an activity with students where we just do a listening spot. We get everybody to quiet down and just kind of listen," Mccune said. "And we've had kids come out of that like, 'I've never stayed quiet before,' or 'I've never heard a bird like that before.'"

For some students, it's their first real experience in nature.

Lizzy Simpson is now a teacher in Tucson and went to the center in elementary school. She grew up in the city and it was an opportunity for her to interact with wildlife, including tarantulas.

"Being outside was really incredible and something I would not have gotten to see otherwise," Simpson said. "And it's something I enjoy now as an adult because I was exposed to it at such a young age."

The decades old camp is always changing. The Cooper Center is now developing a high school program and expanding to help everyone in the community.

"This past year we recently started doing Skype presentations with students in our community, so we'll Skype into classrooms and do ecology sessions," Mccune said. "Because sometimes it's really hard for schools to come out for field trips, so we like to be able to be accessible to everybody in our community."

If you're a parent or teacher who is interested in field trips, visit the Cooper Center online.