George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Building on Local Traditions: Integrating Design, Culture, and Technology

This California school implemented an architecture that encompasses the cultural history of its students.

July 1, 1997

The presence of a wickiup, a Native American grass hut, is one example of how Coyote Canyon Elementary School reflects the local culture.

Credit: Gaylaird Christopher

The rich cultural traditions of the local community are reflected throughout Coyote Canyon Elementary School in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

"All the classrooms in the school are built around courtyards, each of which has a theme to teach students about a different part of the history of our area," Melanie Sowa, the school's principal, explains. The Native American courtyard, for example, features a simulated dry riverbed running past a mock Indian village that includes a wickiup (a grass hut). Wolff/Lang/Christopher, the architects who designed the school, paid for the metal frame for the wickiup and arranged for a group of Native Americans to come show students how to weave cattail reeds to create the shelter.

The Spanish-Mexican courtyard centers on a small Aztec-style pyramid kids can climb on. The Rancho Mission courtyard boasts a mission bell and an authentic wagon wheel. The Vineyard courtyard contains trellises covered with grape vines, a grape press, and cask head.

"These areas allow children to feel a connection with their culture and history," Sowa says. "Every classroom opens up to one of the courtyards, and the outdoors is a natural part of our students' learning environment. Parent volunteers can bring students into the courtyards and do a variety of activities outside, while still being supervised by the teacher who can see them through the window."

Despite its emphasis on history and culture, the 700-student K-4 school, which opened in 1992, is technologically advanced. A schoolwide network provides video and data to every classroom, allowing students to work on real-world projects such as a Monday morning news show called, "Good Morning Coyote Canyon."

"The most important thing about a school, of course, is the people inside," Sowa says. "The nice thing about Coyote Canyon is that we have an incredible staff that cares about -- and has high expectations for -- students, as well as a gorgeous facility that raises the pride and morale of the teachers and students."

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  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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