Arizona’s oldest independent school,
Green Fields, is celebrating 80 years and launching a capital campaign to keep this historic site in top shape. This school is an engaging, energetic hub of creativity and intellectual curiosity.
Green Fields has a rich and colorful history, many great old photos and two members of the faculty who have been teaching there more than 25 years – Becky Cordier, who was the music teacher before becoming Head of School in 2012, and art teacher Jane Buckman. Passionate parents and precocious youngsters also are eager to talk about their unique Green Fields experience.
Founded in 1933 on what was once an alfalfa farm in northwest Tucson, Green Fields continues to instill a passion for lifelong learning in every student – the goal of its founding teacher Rubie Atchley. The school expanded from a private boarding school for boys, where every student had his own horse, to Southern Arizona’s only independent school providing a continuum of education from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
The 22-acre tree-lined grassy campus remains true to its organic roots – with a greenhouse, several student-tended gardens and a chicken coop where third graders tend the flock and sell eggs at the monthly farmer’s market on campus. Many learning experiences are out of doors.
Buildings include the original farmhouse acquired by Rubie and G. Howard Atchley (now the administration building), adobe structures the boys helped build, a geodesic dome added in the 1970s and a state-of-the art performing arts center launched with the single largest gift the school ever received – a donation of $225,000 (which followed an initial donation of $75,000 to build the library). Green Fields recently launched a capital campaign for upgrades and new building projects.
Green Fields has evolved over 80 years – from the time when boys would ride the Rillito riverbed to the Hacienda del Sol girl’s school for afternoon tea… to admitting girls in 1966… to being the first school in the nation to create an exchange program with students from the former Soviet Union… to today as students charge their cell phones on a solar-powered iPod tower on the quad while lying on the grass working on their laptops.
Green Fields really is a rare Tucson treasure. I hope you find this an interesting feature idea. If so, please contact Becky Cordier or the school.
Inspiring A Lifelong Love Of Learning Since 1933
- In 1933 Howard and Rubie Atchley founded the school on a 77-acre alfalfa farm. It was Rubie’s dream to open a boarding school for boys that blended East Coast academic traditions with Western outdoor ranch life.
- The original name was the Circle Double A Green Fields Preparatory School for Boys.
- The school opened with five students.
- The boys helped plant a row of tamarisk trees, called Atchley’s “forest,” that defined the western edge of campus.
- The curriculum was designed to prepare the boys to be accepted by elite high schools back East.
- Classes were held primarily outdoors or on screened porches.
- Students originally actually slept outside on cots year-round! Canvas tarps were handed out in inclement weather.
- The earliest frame building is now part of History Building, Room 12. This was originally the sleeping quarters for faculty and students known as Casa de Bunk. Each modest historic cottage has its own fireplace.
- In 1934 students helped build the adobe structure that housed boarding students. Charles Snowdon was one of those students. After he died in World War II, his family donated books and rededicated the building as the school’s first library, which now includes Snowdon’s personal diaries and photo albums.
- By 1936 enrollment reached 24 students, which led to the hiring of Frederick Baltzell for the salary of $26 per month plus board. He would serve the school, ultimately as Headmaster, until 1970.
- The boys would go on field trips in the school’s “woody” to places like San Xavier del Bac Mission and Tombstone.
- In the 1940s tuition was $1200 for boys living at the school and $450 for day students. The faculty included a Latin teacher and a riding master.
- The boys frequently rode their horses down the Rillito riverbed to Hacienda del Sol, a nearby boarding school for girls, for tea and the occasional cotillion.
- The swimming pool dates from 1947, one of the oldest in Tucson. Over the years activities evolved from horseback riding and riflery to golf, tennis, swimming, archery, fencing, soccer, aerobics and rock climbing. Green Fields sports teams often competed and sometimes won at the state level.
- In 1957 headmaster Frederick Baltzell purchased the school from Rubie Atchley’s sister, teacher Grace Hammerstrom who had joined the faculty three years before Rubie’s death
- By the early 1960s the school ceased to be a boarding school, accepting day students only.
- In 1964, the school became a not-for-profit organization.
- In 1968 the science and math complex was built at a cost of $40,000. It was dedicated by Antarctica explorer and geologist Laurence M. Gould.
- Green Fields went coed, accepting its first female students in 1966, even though there was no girls’ restroom. The curriculum was expanded through high school as a college preparatory school.
- The first high school class of nine seniors graduated in 1969. Congressman Mo Udall was the commencement speaker.
- In 1974 the informal tradition of excursions over spring break was formalized as Interim, a tradition of off-campus learning and real-world exploration that continues four decades later.
- Students from the University of Arizona helped Green Fields students and faculty build a geodesic dome on campus in 1974 which is still used by art students today.
- In 1979 the school was renamed Green Fields Country Day School.
- In 1980 Head of School Phineas Anderson saw the need for computer literacy and obtained a grant to help purchase 11 microcomputers.
- The Center for the Performing Arts was built with the largest single donation in the school’s history - $225,000. The facility was dedicated in 1981 by actress Lillian Gish.
- In 1985 Green Fields was one of 65 private, parochial and independent schools in the nation recognized for excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Astronaut Dick Gordon dedicated the new gym in 1987.
- Green Fields was the first school in the United States to form an exchange program with students in the former Soviet Union.
- Southern Arizona’s oldest independent day school has gradually expanded to offer a continuum of education from kindergarten through 12th
- The campus is now 22 acres, with no livestock. The last horse, Hobo, died in 1999. The last sheep departed in 2000. However, the third-grade class does raise chickens and watches over them with a “chicken cam.” The school also has a greenhouse and several student-tended gardens.
Green Fields continues an environment in which individuality is admired and nurtured.
The roughly 190 students attending Green Fields are a diverse mix of ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds. Many who apply are eligible for financial aid.
Classes are small, from 10 to 12 students, and sometimes are still held outdoors.
Most teachers have advanced degrees.
In a typical year, 100 percent of the graduating class goes on to attend four-year colleges and universities, including many of the top schools in the country.
Academic excellence is a hallmark of Green Fields. The senior class regularly earns more than $1 million in scholarships to some of the nation’s most prestigious schools. The curriculum includes core classes in English, social studies, science, math, fine arts, Spanish and French, plus technology, publications and competitive sports. Developing critical thinking skills is key.
In addition to core curricular requirements, Green Fields boasts of its Capstone Programs, those which are not or cannot be offered by other schools, so are unique to us:
- Beyond Boundaries is a year-long multi-media research project undertaken by each 8th grader to explore life from the perspective of a 14-year old from another part of the globe and present it to an audience.
- Thinking Outside the Box affords each 6th grader the opportunity to do just that.
- Seniors may embark on a Masterwork Project, an independent inquiry to pursue a personal passion beyond the classroom – conducting research, finding a mentor in the community, then communicating this mini-thesis experience with a performance, video or other interactive presentation.
- Leadership and critical thinking opportunities abound in such endeavors as the Greek Festival, Issue Day, Bigs & Littles and many more.
Green Fields also is known for exploratory study outside the classroom. This includes spring Interim, offering off-campus experiences far and wide. Students have worked in a metal sculptor’s studio, gone behind the scenes with veterinarians at the zoo, studied marine biology and desert ecology, even traveled to New Orleans to help in ongoing reconstruction following Hurricane Katrina.
• In 2010 the school went wireless indoors and out. Green Fields also was one of the first high schools in Southern Arizona to offer the complete Google Apps suite used at many universities. Every upper school student receives a Chrome laptop. The Green Fields community is now connected – students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni.
• Green Fields even boasts of the only solar-powered electronic charging station on any campus we’ve heard about.
• A new landmark is the dramatic Griffin sculpture perched atop the Center for Performing Arts. The work is by metal artist David Voisard, who also trains students in his studio during Interim.
• In 2012 Green Fields became the first school to pilot the PAX Good Behavior program to help students establish positive behavior habits for life. The school also introduced the Bal-A-Vis-X, rhythmic exercises that help students focus and improve their concentration.
• During the 2013-2014 academic year, Green Fields celebrates its 80th anniversary, continuing its long tradition of fostering a lifelong love of learning in every student.