Life Along the Streetcar with Tom Heath from The Heath Team Nova Home Loans

On this week’s show, we’re going to speak with Cameron Taylor. He’s the Head of School for Imago Dei, a middle school in the heart of downtown Tucson. We’re going to learn about some of their Innovative learning tools and the impact of this pandemic on that age group.

Today is September 12th, my name is Tom Heath and you’re listening to “Life Along the Streetcar”.

Each and every Sunday our focus is on Social, Cultural and Economic impacts in Tucson’s Urban Core and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From A Mountain to the U of A and all stops in between. You get the inside track- right here on 99.1 FM, streaming on DowntownRadio.org– we’re also available on your iPhone or Android using our very own Downtown Radio app.

Reach us by email contact@lifealongthestreetcar.org — interact with us on Facebook @Life Along the Streetcar and follow us on Twitter @StreetcarLife

Our intro music is by Ryanhood and we exit with music from the Lowdown Brass Band, “No Ceilings.”

Transcript

Tom Heath
Good morning. It’s a beautiful son in the Old Pueblo, and you’re listening to Katy DT Tucson that you’re spending part of your brunch shower with us On your downtown Tucson, A community sponsored rocket already station.

Tom Heath
On this week’s show, we’re going to speak with Cameron Taylor. He’s the Head of School for Imago Dei, a middle school in the heart of downtown Tucson. We’re going to learn about some of their Innovative learning tools and the impact of this pandemic on that age group.

Tom Heath
Today is September 12. My name is Tom Heath, and you’re listening to Life along the streetcar each and every Sunday. Our focus is on social, cultural and economic impacts. In Tucson’s Urban core. We shed light on hidden gems. Everyone should know about from a mountain to you, Arizona and all stops in between. We get the inside track right here on 991 FM Streaming on Downtown Radio dot org, Also available on your Phone or Android. If you download the Downtown Radio Tucson app, you can take us wherever you go.

Tom Heath
This show airs live every Sunday at 11:00 am, And there is a new rebroadcast that happens on Monday morning. So if you’re listening to us on a fine Monday, welcome to that where we are at 5:00 am, As a rebroadcast on Monday, The show itself is available on our podcast platform, Life along the streetcar dot org. Or really, anywhere You can find podcasts, You can even ask your smart speaker to play Life along the streetcar podcast. And if you want to get us here on the show, our email addresses contact at Life along the streetcar. And of course, run all the social media, Facebook and Instagram Pages there. If you want to hit us up Well, last week, we had a man Dollar on the show. And Today’s Show We kind of a dovetail to that. So just want to remind you that Amanda is an author. She wrote a she wrote a book called Saguaro Stillness. And this was her effort to help her child cope with some of the isolation and anxiety that came as a result of the pandemic and the social distancing measures.

Tom Heath
So she’s working on three books, The one that’s coming out most recently, as sort of Stillness. And She has an event coming up next Saturday, the 18th called sketching Saguaro Stillness. You can find information on our Facebook page, or you can look up sketching Saguaro Stillness on Facebook. And you can have your child show up one of the schedule times and do an illustration for her book, which will be out. She’s hoping by the end of the year, Well, that conversation about covid and the Act on her son Let us to reach out to someone who had on the show before Cameron Taylor. He’s the head of school at Imago Dei. That is a middle school tucked away in the heart of downtown Tucson. A lot of folks don’t even know It’s there. They were very special Mission, a special population that they serve their very community-minded and Innovative in their educational practices. So we wanted to reach out to see what impact on this age group that That he was saying at Imago Dei, and it’s learning to be

Tom Heath
recorded just a few days ago with Cameron Taylor.

Cameron Taylor
My main role is in the head of school for Imago Dei Middle School, which is a private tuition free Middle School, right in the heart of downtown, And I would serve only children who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. So it’s we’re unique in that sense, and that we’re a private school, but we’re tuition-free, And we provide all of the everything the students need not only academically, but a very robust enrichment and kind of arts and physical education program. And because of our location in downtown Tucson were able to partner with all kinds of other cool organizations and agencies to just provide a bunch of cool stuff for our students. We also are committed to our alumni and our family. So we have a graduate support program that works with our all of our alumni to Port them in any way possible. And our family support program works with families, providing all kinds of Education around. Maybe, you know, financial literacy, or even support doing taxes, or or working

Cameron Taylor
to make High School possible High School College possible for themselves, or for their kids. And so that both of those programs are pretty Amorphis and interesting and do all kinds of interesting cool, different things. But we’re, we’re, We’re a middle school that does a lot more than Middle School. I’m kind of a Social Services Agency wrapped into a middle

Tom Heath
school. So a middle school That’s that’s great. Five through eight.

Cameron Taylor
Correct? Yeah, for us, We’re again, We’re a little bit different there. We start in grade 5 and go through eighth grade We have were very small. We only have 20 kids per grade to teachers and every class. So it’s a ten to one ratio. We have an extra long day. We go about 910 hours depending on the day. And we also have school on Saturdays, often about half the year. And then we go 11 months. So it’s a pretty intense program, actually, but much of that.

Tom Heath
Why is it so intense me? Why do you have that? That schedule Is it? Is there something

Cameron Taylor
there? Yeah, There are a few reasons. One Is that often the kids that were working with come to us with gaps in their education Oftentimes, because they’ve had an inconsistent education history sometimes, because Our new to this school system about a quarter, maybe 30 percent of our students, are refugees from other countries. And so, oftentimes, they’re learning a new language. They are learning a new culture and, you know, just trying to kind of figure out their way through a new place. So the the long days, the small class sizes all of that are designed to help us fill any of those gaps at the kids may have and provide them the support they need To be ready for high school. And then the other reason is that it provides a safe place for our kids to be for much of the day So that their families can take care of all the business They need to take care of. They can work, They can, you know, take care of other errands or other kids and things they have going on at know that their kids are

Cameron Taylor
in, you know, good hands.

Tom Heath
So, and, and, and you’ve the school’s been around since 2005

Cameron Taylor
2006. Yeah, we open it up, Open our doors in 2006 Yeah. And so we are, Yeah, In our 15th year and going strong, we started with five kids and and the fifth grade, and in the Parish Hall of st Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Armory Park, one teacher. And in those 15 years, We have expanded to, you know, for grades about 80 kids full staff. And we own two buildings In downtown Tucson that we operate out of right on Sixth Avenue across the street, from the Ron stamp Bus Center was obviously very useful. And that’s a little over half of our kids actually utilize the buses to get to school. So our location is excellent. But yeah, we’ve grown quite a bit 15 years,

Tom Heath
and you’ve done that. And he’s kind of said this in the beginning, but you did that. You’ve done that without tuition. And if I remember from our previous conversation, you’re not, you’re not taking. You don’t have federal or state Funding for this, right? You’re doing it all through private donations.

Cameron Taylor
Yeah, correct. It’s all private. We do raise a significant amount of money through the tax credit mechanism, the tax credit program here in Arizona. And so for listeners who may not know Arizona allows individuals and or couples to direct a portion of their tax liability straight to a private school. And so, you know, you owe taxes At the end of the year. You can say, I’d like this much to go straight to Imago Dei Middle School and help fund The education of these kids. So we raise a lot of money That way. There’s also a corporate tax credit program where C corpse and S corpse in Arizona can direct again, their tax liability straight to schools like ours. Corporate tax Credit can only be used for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. So for us, it’s a hundred percent of our students. So we do raise money That tax credit program. But outside of that, It’s just private funding grant funding Foundation, that kind of stuff. We raised all the money ourselves,

Tom Heath
and you mentioned you in a couple of buildings. So the building the schools housed in that’s that’s a remind me, It’s an old Sears building, right? Downtown?

Cameron Taylor
Yeah, River. Generally it was a Sears kind of corporate headquarters. And so it’s got some funky neat old features that you may not find in a school all that often, and some weird mystery doors With low ceilings, and what we have a mezzanine floor of like 7 foot ceilings in one of the rooms. But otherwise it’s a really beautiful, old downtown building and functions for us really Well. It’s kind of interesting where it’s a long narrow building. And so I think not many folks realize that there’s a school there. Not many people realize there’s a school there and are surprised at the end of the day too. See 80 kids pile out of this building and go after the bus, or get picked up.

Tom Heath
And then you mentioned a second building. And I’m guessing, because we haven’t talked about this on the previous show, but I’m thinking, it’s the Santa Teresa tile Works building.

Cameron Taylor
Well, our school. Our School site is actually two buildings. We on that Sears building. And then the building next door That’s right next door to the old hotel. Arizona, Miss Saigon and all that. And Danny’s Barbershop is a part of our building Danny as a tenant. And then. So that’s two buildings There. We don’t own the building that Santa Teresa tile works is in. We just own the business that’s located just a couple blocks away. Six and six. Okay, So,

Tom Heath
tell me a little bit about that, because that was something I just found out recently That’s a it’s kind of intriguing to me that you own that. And how does that fit in with your business model? Your school model?

Cameron Taylor
Well. So yeah, I mean, it’s kind of an Innovative structure. Santa Teresa. Our works as many people probably know, is a long time Tucson business founded by a woman named Susan gamble about 35 years ago. And it does decorative, artistic, kind of tile mosaics. And so if you’ve seen it, you, you immediately recognize it all over town. There’s public art all over the place, And there’s neighborhood signs, and there’s any number of houses throughout Tucson That have some Santa Teresa tile Works, Mosaic in their house House, or in their Garden or something. And several years ago, when Susan was getting ready to retire, She and I hatched this ridiculous idea that the school could take over the business, and that we would use it for a few different reasons. One would obviously be as a potential funding mechanism for our program, But kind of more core to what we do. What we were hoping to do is provide, you know, art education for Not only our students, but for other students and their adult workshops

Cameron Taylor
as well. So people can come in and make things and learn how to make things and learn how to make tile and all that kind of stuff. And then we are also, you know, right now it’s staffed by a lot of people that are connected to the school. So there’s alumni and parents who work there and volunteer their. And our hope long-term is to have kind of small business, education and internships in marketing and sales and I Of stuff for our alumni or family members so that we can continue to just kind of broaden our educational Horizons and provide more opportunities for families and kids to not only get involved in their Community, but learn, you know, vital skills to help them Reach whatever goals they’ve got going on in their own life. As far as you know, maybe starting a business or, you know, just having more skills that with might be useful for another job opportunity, or something like that.

Tom Heath
Yeah, always amazed that at the way you sort of weave life To into your school and activities, because your name came up. We were doing a show with a net over to the L offices and their Indoor Farmers Market that they’re doing. Now. They just started. Well, obviously, you know this because you’re involved, but they started at once a month, and they told me they were working with your students, because your your school in the middle of urban downtown Tucson has an agricultural program. And I was kind of surprised by that.

Cameron Taylor
Yeah. We, we just had our first farmers market of the year We’re over at the L spacing from It was a raging success. I think we have a farm to school coordinator, Frank, the feature ball on staff, and he teaches classes to the kids and to families about local food Pathways. And we kind of have a focus on food Justice. They’re often times our families live in neighborhoods, where they don’t have access to Fresh cute. And so we have a whole curriculum around, you know, how they can maybe Rectify that. And not just Classroom curriculum, we have to production like a commercial size plots at last little pizzas farm, right down the road, and our kids grow, and our parents go and grow all kinds of produce. And so we use that produce not only to for our family Pantry, which is available to families and alumni families of the school. But our seventh and eighth graders Also work with local volunteers, mostly through into it, to run their own On small business and oftentimes that small business is

Cameron Taylor
built around the farm and the garden program at food. And so this year, the kids are selling fresh produce that they are planting, growing, tending to taking care of harvesting all the on their own at the farmers market. And that runs at the L as well as some kind of produced products that they have designed and made themselves as well, Like spice rub and a cookie mix. And that kind of stuff. And all the ingredients are That they are growing locally, and that they’re, you know, sourcing and putting together. So it’s kind of a full wrap around thing. You know, we’re teaching nutrition and, you know, having a voice and fighting for justice for your community and small business skills and all kinds of stuff. So definitely not traditional Middle School curriculum, but it’s working for us,

Tom Heath
And we’ll be back to finish up our interview here with Cameron Taylor. The head of school at Imago Dei be back in just a moment. But I do To remind you that you’re listening to Life along the streetcar on Downtown Radio 991 FM and available for streaming on Downtown Radio dot org.

Tom Heath
We are back to finish up our interview with Cameron Taylor head of school at Imago Dei here in downtown Tucson. That first half was a lot about their Innovation, their the unique programs of the success that they’ve had as a school. And in this part, I asked him a couple of questions. One was with all the success. Is there a thought to expanding their working with 80 students right? Now? Can they? Can they work with more, or could they work in different parts of the state will get his response to that, and we’ll also find out the, the main reason for the, for the call the impact Of covid and social distancing on that age group in the fifth through eighth grades Boy 80 students. I mean, they’re getting a great opportunity experiences. Can you expand? Or what’s the thoughts? I’m growing.

Cameron Taylor
You know, we’re not sure yet. This, this question is obviously starting to come up. We’re having a ton of success. You know? I mean, our kids are graduating high school at about a 95 percent clip, which is maybe 22, sometimes 25 points higher than National, or even Southern Arizona for ate half of the kids that graduate high. School are going off to Four year colleges, and the other half are entering into other community college or vocational training. So, you know, the kids Futures like the program is working. So the question of how do we expand comes up? Often? I think the idea of what Imago Dei does can be replicated elsewhere. But the exact thing, you know, the exact programming, it’s not like plug-and-play. We’re, we are responding to a need in this community Each and every day that, you know, we add a program, or that we, you know, go in a different direction with our curriculum. It’s simply a response to needs and issues that we are seeing in our community. And so that approach makes

Cameron Taylor
it a little bit tougher to expand or to replicate

Tom Heath
well, in serving community and responding to needs. You know, the timing of our conversation is intentional, because This was sparked by a conversation I had last week on the show with Amanda Madala. She is, As, you know, an author who she’s working on a series of books. And the one she’s got out right now is called saguaros Stillness. And it’s it’s her effort to really kind of take her experience with her own family, her own kids and using our desert landscape and in our desert things to kind of connect through, through that in and help you deal with emotions that have been A little bit conflicting and confusing as a result of covid.

Cameron Taylor
Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s, it’s had an enormous Impact. Middle School is an incredibly important time in your development. You know, you’re going through adolescence. And and middle school is often seen as the most challenging, or the most difficult time, not only for kids, but like for teachers and Educators as well. And it takes a special kind of mindset to work with middle school students, Because Their job in life is to push boundaries. The whole point of a 13-year attend a 13 year old kid is to push boundaries and to try and find out where the edges, you know. And they’re trying to figure out how relationships work and and where, you know, how hard you can push and all those things. And so developmentally, they’re supposed to be doing that. You know, that that comes out in practice Sometimes is very challenging and difficult to To deal with. But that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. And this group, you know, this generation of middle school Students has been going through that

Cameron Taylor
online, and in a setting where it’s nearly impossible to get, you know, to understand full context of conversations and relationships. I kind of stuff. I mean, think about us as adults when, you know, we send a text that is meant to be funny. And then we realized, Oh man, that wasn’t funny, because, you know, it’s impossible to To hear that sarcasm, or, you know, whatever in that text. You know, I can’t imagine being 11 years old and trying to figure out relationships and figure out where I factored in, and how I fit into all these different things, And what my community is like without being able to have intense intimate, you know, interactions with people. Even for students who’ve been in school throughout the pandemic, There have been all the, you know, social distance Seeing things in place. And, you know, it’s, I think we’re just overlooking Oftentimes. I mean, I know there’s a lot of people who are focused on this, but I think the general Community has may be overlooking how important

Cameron Taylor
that those few years for adolescents are on relationships and and interacting with the broader world around them. And I don’t think we’re going to fully understand the consequences of what the, you know the The pandemic has had on our Middle School, age students. And so we’re working really hard with our kids and our families to make sure that all of those challenges that have come up and all of the issues that the kids are facing, then we can, you know, try and figure out how to face that with them and how to support them through that.

Tom Heath
How do you mean, what are the things that you can do as a schoolers or community, that to help with this transition back into real life Education

Cameron Taylor
And being intensely focused on community helps? You know, everything We do is rooted in that. So we, we’ve been trying as hard as we can while maintaining, you know, my proper kind of covid protocol and all that kind of stuff to have as much group activity and as much interactive activity as possible. And we, and, and not just with students, you know, I mean, even little things. For instance, we just did an art project where Everybody in the school building staff faculty kids. Everybody made these kind of interactive art pieces, where one person was responsible for one half of something. And it was kind of this, you know, interesting design piece, and then they’re all jumbled up and passed out. And then another person who’s responsible for the next aspect of it. And then, you know, we’re in the process of building this big collage. And it seems like, you know, kind of a silly little idea Just to have some fun with art, but it’s really intentional, And it’s and it’s done really to say, hey,

Cameron Taylor
we’re all in this together. We’re all working in this together. And look at even though we’re all coming from different places. We had different design ideas. We had a totally different, you know, mindset coming into this. Look at this beautiful thing that we’re creating together. And when we put all of our talents together, look at, you know, what we can do. And so it’s everything from the little art projects to bigger, you know, intentional pieces in our curriculum And field trips and Camp trips and stuff like that that are upcoming, you know, hopefully, given the state of the world that we can just continue to focus on kind of relationships are that’s that’s really just kind of the key to every decision we make is is this good for relationships and community and kids?

Tom Heath
I was Cameron Taylor head of school for Imago Dei in downtown Tucson, One of my favorite stories to share. I get the pleasure of interviewing a lot of great folks in our community, in the urban core. And the work that Cameron and his staff are doing it. Imago Dei has its. It is really, truly one of my favorite stories to share because of the impact that it has on our community Over all the success rate. He talked about the graduation rates at 95%, which just Far and Away exceeds every every metric out there. The They stay involved with their families. Well, after graduation, they are 15 years in the making and and the impact. It’s probably a measurable at this point to see the the, the Ripple effects of everything that they’re doing. Well, my name is Tom Heath. You are listening to Life along the streetcar on downtown radio 981 FM and available for streaming on downtown or radio dot-org. This podcast is sponsored by the mortgage guidance group and Nova Home Loans. If you enjoyed this Podcast,

Tom Heath
Keep listening, or head over to Life along the streetcar dot org for all of our past episodes, current events and things to do While visiting Tucson, Tom Heath animal S number, 182 420 Nova, animal S number 308 7bk number 0 9 0 2 4 2 9 Equal Housing Opportunity.

Tom Heath
Well, thanks for joining us for another episode of a Life along the streetcar. Think this is episode number 168 If you like what you hear, maybe hit us up on Facebook and tagged us in a post, or share something on our on our page that you would like us to talk about. We like to uncover hidden gems with sometimes They’re hidden. We need your help to find them. So let us know What is a Hidden Gem We should be talking about in the urban core. I want to special Actually. Thank today’s guest Cameron Taylor of Imago Dei spending some time with us Talking about really one of my favorite stories. And it ties in really well with what we discussed last week with Amanda model and her book on Saguaro Stillness. And just as a reminder, you can still be involved with her community art project, sketching Saguaro Stillness. You can find information on Facebook under that name. She’s inviting the public to help illustrate Great her book. So there’s going to be 30 kids that are, are going to be a selected,

Tom Heath
and their artwork will be in the book. Maybe more than 30 I don’t remember, could be 60, actually, Anyway, go to sketching soir Stillness for all those details. And if you ever want us to cover a topic, you can, you know, shoot us an email contact at Life along the streetcar dot org, or, as I mentioned tagos and share coming up on next week, We’ve got David Pike of the screening room and Going to talk with him about the importance of that Community type theater in Tucson as well as his role and keeping it active and alive, and they’ll be right in the midst of the underground Film Festival. It starts this week. So you can check that out at the screening room. Tucson

Tom Heath
Cameron mentioned they were in an interesting old building that had mysterious doors and long hallways and low ceilings, And those ceilings might be low within the school. But it seems like those students have no ceiling. So we’re going to leave you with music today from 2021 The album is called the real sessions. The band is the lowdown Brass Band, and the song is No Ceilings, or thank you for tuning in My name is Tom Heath. I hope you have a fantastic week and tune in next Sunday for more Life along the streetcar.

This page provided by The Heath Team at Nova Home Loans®

Tom Heath - Senior Loan Officer with Nova Home Loans
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