“Off-the-grid” charter school brings innovation and choice to rural reservation students

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By Kim Martinez

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 1.51.52 PMThere is a unique charter school on the edge of the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona. It stands in the middle of some of the most rural land in the state. The area is so remote that there is no power or water infrastructure in place to provide the school with even basic resources. Yet STAR School is one of the most cutting edge and innovative schools in the country.

“We are completely off the grid,” says STAR School co-founder Dr. Mark Sorensen. “When we set out to build a school here, we knew we would have to generate our own resources to power the school.”

Sorensen turned to solar technology to generate energy to his school. STAR School also has it’s own water well, a well that is efficient and capable of providing water to the neighboring community in an emergency situation.

Existing off the grid has helped the students learn about sustainable energy sources like solar power. Although the school is cutting edge in resources, the curriculum honors the traditions of the Navajo people including teaching Navajo language arts and culture.

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“STAR School is a school which has become a big part of the community for the students, their parents and our Navajo elders in the area,” says Arizona Sen. Carlyle Begay R-LD7. “The children are given an environment where they feel comfortable exploring both our traditional ways as well as newest advancements in science.”

Only a few steps from the solar farm, the school has a traditional bread oven used to prepare foods for community events with the Navajo elders.

“The students can take the blue corn that is grown by tribal farmers and make things like blue corn muffins,” says Sorenson. “We want our kids to understand the value of their cultural roots.”

“I would love to see more high-quality private and public school choice options in our communities,” adds Sen. Begay. “The success we are seeing at STAR school is proof that we can get an entire tribal community to rally around a great school which is the key to turning around the current crisis we face in educating our Native American youth.”

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