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Santo Nicotera’s Retirement Announcement: I will be retiring from the position of Director of ‘Professional Development/Outreach’ on June 30, 2018.  It has been a great honor to serve as CITY Center for Collaborative Learning’s first director of PD Outreach and to be a part of CITY Center’s emerging role as an educational leader here in Tucson and beyond.  As many of you know, I was the co-founder (with JoAnn Groh) of the two Paulo Freire Freedom Schools in Tucson and had been the principal at the PFFS-University campus until June 2016 when I accepted this position.  The plan was to serve as PD Outreach director for multiple years, however, health issues have made an earlier retirement necessary.  The search for a new director was begun a few weeks ago.  Please see CITY Center for Collaborative Learning’s Employment Page and download Job Posting for more information about this open position.  Thank you to everyone for your support over the years.

P.S.  Here is my latest blog entry.

A ‘Place’ Where Deeper Learning Happens

I am writing this from Arizona; from a cabin in the Santa Catalina Mountains high above the city of Tucson.  It takes about 60 minutes to drive up from Tucson (a mid-sized US town of about a million people – sprawling in the Sonoran Desert about 2,000 ft. above sea level) to this place in the Coronado National Forest, 8,000 ft. above sea level.

The drive ‘up’ itself is amazing.  Think about it: you are climbing 6,000 feet in 60 minutes, taking-in a radically different biome through the windshield of your vehicle every 10 minutes (e.g. Sonoran Desert Scrub, Desert Grassland, Open Oak Woodland, Pine Oak Woodland, Pine Oak Forest, Pine Forest, and Montane Fir Forest).  And if you go further up the mountain from where I am you are in Subalpine Forest.  Geologists call mountains like this (that rise above the desert floor), ‘Sky Islands’.

So, I am writing this from the top of a Sky Island in the northern Sonoran Desert – a ‘place’ where deeper learning happens for me a lot these days.

Learning in Different Places

I have lived and learned in several different ‘places’ during my life.  I was born in east LA in 1952 and my family lived in three different places in Los Angeles by the time I turned 10.  We moved to New York City in 1962 (lived in Brooklyn) and then to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1964.  Pre-college: I attended six different, public elementary schools (grades K-5), two Catholic schools (grades 6-10), and a public high school (grades 11-12) – graduating in 1971.  I started college that year but dropped out in 1972 to ‘find myself’ and didn’t make it back until 1982.

The end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s was a tumultuous time for a lot of young people (myself included) – for example, I was arrested by US marshals during a sit-in at the Selective Service Building in Salt Lake City in May 1971 (I didn’t actually walk in my HS graduation) and ended up hitch-hiking all over the US, coast to coast for 4 months before starting college.  And when I dropped out 5 months later – I went off hitch-hiking again.  I truly believed at that time that I could not learn in ‘places of learning’.

Looking back, I have come to understand that I was actually learning a lot during that early part of my life both in those places designated for learning (10 total before age 20) and those that were not.  I have come to understand that every human being is on his/her/their own ‘odyssey’ – a developmental journey filled with transformational moments and deeper learning which cause them to construct and re-construct over time, ever better ‘meaning-making systems’.  Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first led me to this understanding of how people make sense of their world and cognitive psychologists like Robert Kegan (see Transformational Learning) have deepened my understanding of the human developmental process over the years.

Acknowledging that deeper learning did occur in the places designated for learning that I attended in my early life is not saying much.  I believe that deeper learning occurred because I am a human being and am bound by this human developmental journey.  In most instances, it occurred in spite of those places and the way they were designed.  It should be noted however, that something about those schools spoke to me deeply and I eventually became a teacher and (after twenty years working in Denver Public Schools) in 2002 I moved to Tucson to help design a school (a place) that supported and inspired deeper learning and that authentically used ‘place’ (downtown Tucson, greater Tucson, the Tucson community, southern Arizona, and beyond) as our learning environment of choice.

Place-Based Schools and Deeper Learning

“Over the course of a decade, starting in 2004, our founding team of public school ‘teacher leaders’ launched three schools in Tucson, Arizona to serve as innovative learning communities where best educational practices could be practiced and shared with the wider educational community.”  See CITY Center for Collaborative Learning: Teacher Leadership and The Founding of Our Three Schools.

Place-Based Education (PBE) – also known as Place-Based Learning (the other PBL)* – is one of these foundational ‘best educational practices’ upon which City High School and the two Paulo Freire Freedom Schools were launched in 2004, 2005, and 2014 respectively.  These schools were created to be demonstration sites committed to providing place-based learning experiences away from the building that would deepen our students’ understanding of our problem-based, project-based curriculum and instruction – ‘places’ where deeper learning happens by design.  *Project-Based Learning (another foundational practice at the three demonstration schools) is more commonly referred to as ‘PBL’.

Ten days ago on March 1st, CITY Center for Collaborative Learning held an Open House and Capital Campaign Kickoff event for our collaborative learning center at 37 East Pennington St. in downtown Tucson.  The event marked the opening of this beautifully restored space (renovation in process) but also celebrated our fourteen year presence in the center of Tucson.  At the event Randi Dorman, chair of the Tucson Downtown​ Partnership, lauded the role City Center for Collaborative Learning​ and its three, place-based demonstration schools have played in the revitalization of downtown Tucson (watch a short video of the event at the CITY Center Facebook page.)

PFFS IntersessionOn Tuesday, March 13th, CITY Center for Collaborative Learning will be holding a ‘Placed-Based Learning’ Residency Workshop – an all-day adult learning experience about how PBE is designed in our three demonstration schools.  All next week there will be special Intersession programming in small groups for the 150 middle schoolers at PFFS-Downtown and PFFS-University (one of those Intersession groups will be coming up here to begin a 3-day/2 night adventure – hiking down from the top Mt. Lemmon).  Also on Tuesday, City High School sophomores will be setting out for a four-day trip to Los Angeles to visit museums there and camp on the Pacific Ocean.

When I step down from this Professional Development Outreach director position at the end of June, I will miss very much being part of this ‘place’ we call CITY Center for Collaborative Learning and its three place-based schools.  I am reminded however that any place can be a ‘place’ where deeper learning happens – place-based, deeper learning by design.