A handful of former Orange Grove Middle School students took a walk down memory lane this weekend when they returned to their alma mater and talked about how their experience at the school affected their ongoing education and everyday life.

The students attended the school, at 1911 E. Orange Grove Road, in the early 1990s when the Catalina Foothills School District first began to use the Systems Thinking teaching method.

The method, applied to all subject areas, asks students to use tools such as charts and diagrams to see how different aspects of a problem relate to one another.

The school district has used Systems Thinking for the past 17 years through a grant from the Waters Foundation, said the program's project manager for the district, Joan Yates. The former students were brought back to see if the teaching method had any long-term effects.

One former student, 27-year- old Andy Harrison, now attends graduate school in Boston. He said he didn't recall anything specific about his middle school's curriculum, though he did remember reading John Steinbeck's novel "The Pearl" and drawing connections between various aspects of the book.

But for the most part, the students just followed the teacher's lesson plans, he said.

Nat Johnson, 28, will soon start his residency at University Medical Center. He remembered some discussion about curriculum when he attended the school.

"There was talk about it, but I don't think we knew it was cutting-edge or a new form of education," he said.

Still, using charts and diagrams and discussing different aspects of a situation was more interesting than listening to someone rattle off facts, he said.

"It was certainly a more interesting and engaging way of learning," Johnson said.

The former students were filmed on Saturday and participated in a roundtable discussion as part of a study that examines how their education at the school influenced them years later.

James R. Morrison, an independent filmmaker who got involved with the program through his partnership with the Creative Learning Exchange, said the footage will be sent to school boards across the country to provide them with more information about Systems Thinking.

The project is funded with a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, which paid all of the participants' travel expenses and gave them $250 for their time.

Tracking down the students to participate in the film was difficult, Morrison said. It took him six to eight weeks to find eight students who'd be willing to return to the school and participate in the video.

For the students, returning to the school brought back memories as they mingled with former classmates, some of whom they hadn't seen in years.

The library was a familiar site, except that when they attended it wasn't filled with laptop computers.

Athena Constantankis, 26, a local dentist, said she hadn't returned to the middle school for more than a decade. She said she thought it would be interesting to participate in filming the video. Attending Orange Grove Middle School had an impact on her life, she said.

"I think it widened my view of things," she said. "It helped me think outside of the box."


● Contact reporter Dale Quinn at 618-1924 or dquinn@azstarnet.com.