"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."