Tuba City Elementary School

Education

Tuba City Elementary School (K-5)

Tuba City, Arizona

A new school can boost community interest — and attendance — even before it is complete.

The original Eagle’s Nest Intermediate School constructed in the 1960s fell into disrepair, and lacked many modern amenities, especially for 21st-century students. In fact, many students left the District because of the poor condition of the school. If students continued to leave their community to attend school, Navajo traditions, beliefs, and values were at risk of disappearing.

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In the face of losing students and Navajo culture, the new school was approved; even before construction began, the District saw a spike in attendance. The community was excited about 21st-century learning and blending Navajo traditions and culture.

The District’s vision for the school drove the design concepts:

  • Incorporate cultural-appropriate features to support the instructional environment for students.
  • Provide a 21st-century learning environment, with instructional programs driven by technology, flexible learning spaces for project-based learning, and all interior/exterior spaces shall promote learning by creating interest, curiosity, and opportunity.
  • Be a high-performance facility, with energy-efficient building systems, sustainability promoting environmental awareness and learning opportunities, conform to the latest building and accessibility codes, and improve student safety and campus security. 

School Design Mirrors Navajo Spiritual Beliefs

The new $17.5 million, 67,542 SF school design references many traditional Navajo spiritual beliefs and values. The four wings of the school align with the cardinal points of the compass. Each classroom wing references the traditional values and colors assigned to the cardinal points.

The significance of the cardinal directions in Navajo culture is a progression from East moving clockwise to the North, from morning to night, birth to death. The wings of the new school adhere to this progression with the youngest grades in the East wing, progressing to the oldest grades in the North wing.

The wings are attached to a “Hogan” style central hub. The Hogan holds high importance in Navajo culture. In the past it was used as a home shelter; today it is mainly used for ceremonial purposes and family gathering space.

Student-Centered Learning Spaces Build Cultural Bonds

Beyond the spiritual associations designed to strengthen the students’ cultural bonds and identity, the culturally-centered building is designed as a student-centered school with flexible learning spaces that easily adapt to project-based learning. Each wing features folding glass walls that open to a central collaboration space. A central flexible learning space in the core is circled by Navajo Language Instruction Labs where students receive daily language and cultural immersion.