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Backyard Project
A Regenerative Learning Ecosystem

The Bisbee Science Lab is located at 519 W Melody Lane, Bisbee AZ, a property owned and operated by the Bisbee Unified School District. The Bisbee Science Lab, in conjunction with the Bisbee Unified School District, Copper Queen Library, Bisbee community, and UA landscape design Coverdell fellow Blake Houghton, is working to redesign the roughly 8 acre backyard into a versatile public space.

In October 2021, we invited sustainable landscape design architect Gerardo Ruiz Smith from San Miguel Mexico to run a collaborative design workshop at 519 W Melody Lane. Our 35 participants provided valuable ideas that helped shape our current work. In November and December 2021, we ran workshops with local elementary, middle, and high school students. Their creative input will be integral as we continue with the design of the landscape. In March of 2022, we ran another community design workshop, targeting locals who live in the immediate vicinity of 519 W Melody Lane. 

Now, in collaboration with Bisbee Unified School District, we have received funding from A for Arizona to start the design phase! 

Current Work: Design Phase

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We are entering our design phase and currently working to find the right designers for the project. After a year of community engagement, we learned that there are four main areas that are important to the community: 

Design Principles

We have worked with our stakeholders to develop our design principles that will guide the designers: 

Radical Inclusion 

Promote and value diversity and inclusion for accessibility for all including age, race, ADA, language, nationality, sexuality and gender, and so on in all aspects of this work, and rely on collaboration with the community at large in every stage of the project to advance community priorities. 


Borderlands Ecologies 

Honor the shared natural and human-made ecologies of the Sky Islands that extend beyond political borders, recognizing that they are both interconnected and complex, to address the challenges and embrace the assets that they present in this region. 


Learning in Every Component 

Incorporate educational elements in every aspect of the project including accessible, intergenerational, and multilingual resources with an emphasis on locally relevant STEAM and literacy learning. 


Participatory Science

Empower collective community science learning opportunities in the form of five locally relevant science research field stations, accessible and actionable STEAM resources, and dynamic, experiential learning that requires both critical and creative thinking. 


Environmental Stewardship

Cultivate experimental, pioneering practices that address locally relevant environmental crises including but not limited to the integration of indigenous knowledge, permaculture design principles, ecological restoration and conservation, and renewable energies. 


Active Wellness 

Promote the physical and emotional health of the local community through accessible infrastructure that provides space for physical activity, contemplation and reflection, and community action to address local needs.


Empower Resiliency 

Empower intergenerational solutions and action related to the 4 Es to cultivate community adaptability, creativity, and overall resiliency in the face of the many intersectional crises affecting our community. 

Regenerative Planning

Plan for the long-term durability and maintenance of the designed facilities and provide the flexibility for ongoing artistic design, experimentation, and expression. 


Experiment in Progress 

Embrace messy ideas to work beyond the fringes of the ‘backyard box’ and lean into our experiment in progress with imagination and ingenuity. 

As we move along this project, we will have a variety of ways to get your input! We want to hear from you and if you'd like to learn more or provide your feedback, email Thea at

Project Manager

Thea Van Gorp 

Project Manager, Bisbee Science Lab

Thea Van Gorp was born and raised in Bisbee. She is an experienced education consultant with a background in community education and informal learning and has worked in a variety of museums and nonprofits in Tucson and in New York City. Thea holds a Masters degree in Applied Anthropology & Education with an emphasis on Leveraging Informal Learning and Rural Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University. She recently moved back to Bisbee to work on this project and give back to her community. 

Advisory Board

Brenda Morales

Office Manager, Bisbee Community Member

Brenda Morales was born and raised in Bisbee, Brenda and her husband Ramon have made their home in San Jose, raising their two daughters. Since the girls (now 21 and 16) were very young, Brenda has enjoyed volunteering in the classroom and has always been active in cheering on the Puma sports teams. She has volunteered serving meals at The Coalition for the Homeless and is an active member of St. Patrick's Church. She currently works as the office manager for the Bisbee Information Office. Brenda attended school in the decommissioned school building where this project takes place.


Sheyla Lopez

School Counselor, Douglas/Agua Prieta Community Member

Sheyla Lopez is a mother, well educated feminist with a strong background in behavior and child psychology, and cross-border community member. She has used her practical skills to serve her community and her family both in Mexico and in the U.S. She currently works as a school counselor for the Center for Academic Success schools in Douglas, serving K-12 students through vocational orientations, mental health interventions, general support, and much more. She loves challenges, and works hard to bring enrichment opportunities to her students.

Terry Rayna

Former Principal/Superintendent of McNeal Schools


Eliani Rubio

Bisbee Science Lab Lead High School Intern

Eliani Rubio is a Bisbee High School sophomore who has been on the BSL internship team since the beginning of her freshman year. During her tenure, she has helped open the Outdoor Learning Center, lead summer programming with the Boys and Girls Club, facilitate activities during open lab hours, and run the mobile lab in Naco, Bisbee, and Douglas. This past fall she was promoted to the role of lead intern, and now takes on the responsibilities of managing the intern schedules and gathering and verifying invoices. She is interested in helping in all BSL endeavors, including the new backyard project.

Satellite Image Provided by UA Landscape Design Student Blake Houghton

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Satellite Image Provided by Gerardo Ruiz Smith

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