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Academic Programs


  • Social Justice & Environmental Sustainability – We are upfront about two universal values:  1) all humans deserve a life of dignity and 2) all of us are stewards of the planet.  We weave these values throughout all aspects of our schools and they form the bifocal lens (social justice and environmental sustainability) through which we design our curriculum.  We commit ourselves to inquiry into the issues these values generate in our world.
  • Curriculum Design  – We design our curricula ‘backwards’ with the end in mind using UbD.  We begin by designating what learning is essential (from the articulated standards and our unique curricular focus) and then plan how to get students to demonstrate those desired learning outcomes.  Key content standards are organized around essential questions that are provocative, relevant and multifaceted. Understanding by Design® Framework (by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe)
  • Project Based Learning  –  We use PBL, a transformative teaching method for engaging ALL students in meaningful learning and developing the 21st Century competencies of critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, creativity and communication.  Additionally, we incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) into our integrated units of instruction. Essential_Project_Design_Elements


  • Intersession – Twice a year, in the fall and spring, we break from regular classroom instruction to instead pursue topics of interest in depth for a week. Examples of past Intersessions are:  Political Musical Theater, Backpacking in Aravaipa Canyon, Archeology in Chaco Canyon, Law, Urban Gardening etc.
  • Expeditions – On a regular basis students explore their community in field trips that build background knowledge, connect school learning to real world experiences, and help prepare students for life in the adult world.  Expeditions vary widely, but include attending artistic performances, conducting scientific experiments in the natural world and performing service learning at local nonprofits.
  • Service Learning is woven into all aspects of our school, arising in classroom instruction, advisories, our Expedition/Intersession programs and is an individual requirement for all 8th graders as part of their Graduation Portfolio.


Our habits of heart and mind are 21st century skills that students learn and practice throughout the PFFS learning community in order to be high school, college, and career ready.  Together these habits are A RECIPE for success:

  • Action:  How do I make things happen?
  • Reflection:  What have I learned?
  • Evidence:  What makes something believable and convincing?
  • Care:  How can I be kind and supportive?
  • Inquiry:  What do I want to know?
  • Perspective:  Whose viewpoints should I consider?
  • Expression:  How do I share what I think, know, and feel?


We assess our students to determine the effectiveness of the teaching and learning we have designed.  Assessments help us know what needs to be retaught and to whom so that all students are successful.  We use a variety of assessment methods including the following:

  • On-going Formative Assessments – These are frequently used class-based ‘check-ins’  that are often ungraded or given only minor weight.  Formative assessments help teachers adjust their plans for upcoming instruction.
  • Performance Based Assessments – Students are asked to demonstrate what they know and are able to do through the use of performance assessments which require their application of knowledge and skills in real life unpredictable settings.  These demonstrations of learning are usually public – with performances given at least to their peers and often to their parents or the community at large.  The public nature of these performances make them more authentic and ensures student engagement.
  • Student-Led Conferences – Occurring twice a year these conferences allow students to reflect on their strengths and stretches, share their best work in each of their classes and set academic goals for the upcoming months.  During the student-led conference the student acts as both the presenter and the facilitator of the conference.
  • Digital Portfolios – Each student maintains a digital portfolio of their work and, as part of their 8th grade graduation requirements, are required to present their portfolio to a panel of peers and adults.
  • Standards Based ‘Narrative Report’ Cards – Our semester report cards indicate academic achievement relative to specific content standards and include narrative descriptions of student work habits, strengths, stretches and passions.


Our advisory program addresses both the academic and interpersonal needs of our students.  Advisors are the point of contact between home and school, guaranteeing that each student and family has an advocate at the school who knows them well.  Advisors monitor and support the academic, social and emotional lives of their advisees.


During Learning Lab students develop and implement an independent learning project of their choosing with Advisor guidance.  Students may research something they are passionate about, practice a skill, or create something.  It is expected that they present their projects to their peers upon completion.  At PFFS-University students have a choice of electives classes  that alternate with their Learning Lab.   At PFFS-Downtown students have Flow Lab ‘playlists’ that incorporate independent projects, elective activities, and remediation/acceleration support.


Everyday students participate in sustained silent reading.  The purpose of this time is to cultivate independent readers who will grow the habit of reading for their own pleasure and edification.  We also use this time to provide students with additional support if they need it.

CITY Center Schools and Programs


Our Academic Framework