In an effort to reimagine American high school education, Canyon View High School was not only designed to meet the needs of students in today’s digital era, but to enhance their safety and communication.
To emphasize that design, the school hosted a group of lecturers, researchers, school violence intervention officers and entrepreneurs from Eastern Europe and Central Asia in June.
The group, which brought to Arizona education leaders from countries the likes of Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Slovakia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, is part of the International Visitor Leadership Program.
And during the tour, the group — 21st Century Changemakers: Be Best: Strategies for Combating Cyberbullying — learned about some of the ways the school promotes positive behavior both online and on campus.
School Principal Phillip Nowlin, who hosted the tour group alongside Agua Fria Union High School District Superintendent Dennis Runyan, shared one of his main focuses: creating an environment where students collaborate and communicate in a clean, productive way.
“In this day and age, one of the pieces we really look at is this,” Nowlin said, holding up a cellular phone. “A lot of times, we’re focused on, ‘Let’s take this away,’ because then we can avoid the things they can do online. But that’s not realistic. These are never going away.
“So, how do we focus on helping the students doing a better job on managing their behavior, their social interactions? Those are some of the things that we try to focus on here at Canyon View High School.”
Wendy Anderton, Global Ties Arizona president and CEO, said the international exchange group works under First Lady Melania Trump’s “BE Best” initiative, a program that promotes well-being, online safety and opioid-abuse awareness.
“(Global Ties Arizona) is the local host for the International Visitor Leadership Program — the premier professional exchange program out of our U.S. Department of State,” Anderton said. “They were really excited to come to Arizona so that they could learn about what we’re doing to prevent cyberbullying — not just from a rules standpoint, but from a cooperative standpoint.”
Triin Toomesaar, who traveled to the United States from Estonia for the first time for the program’s symposium, is the executive director of Kiusamisvaba (Bullying-Free School), a foundation with a mission to wipe out bullying in Estonian schools. Her foundation raises awareness through the use of print, social media and partnerships with public figures.
Efforts like these are similar to those at Canyon View. Nowlin noted the school’s “common language,” a language used on campus by students and staff to emphasize a more positive use of words.
“When you talk about cyberbullying or any type of bullying — the first step you have to do is, you have to establish a culture where those students feel supported. If they don’t feel connected to you, you’re not going to get through. Period,” Nowlin said.
That culture goes hand in hand with the design of the high school’s facility. DLR Group Senior Associate David Schmidt, who was at Canyon View’s ribbon-cutting ceremony a year ago, said his firm designed the school in such a way that would increase collaboration and engagement.
“Smaller learning communities was something the district took to a new level here. Phillip and the team are using it as an academy. This last year they had just freshmen. They had one academy. In a couple years, they’ll have four academies. And each of those has their own home room — a big, open space,” Schmidt said.
“The idea of a smaller learning community is building relationships, not just among students, but among the administrators and the teachers as well,” he added.
Nowlin, who said 951 students will attend Canyon View this coming school year, said students from all across the Valley made it their choice.
“We’ve got parents that are passing about 10 different high schools to get here. And so that’s a testament to the work that my staff has done as far as providing this great environment.”