In Our Neighborhood: Three Student Vignettes

November 6, 2019

As 8th graders move into the Cityside Program, they enjoy interdisciplinary learning to explore Providence’s 25 neighborhoods and work with various NGOs, non-profit organizations, community groups, and branches of government for civic engagement, project-based learning, inquiry, and research. Cityside supports students in their exploration of interests as they form meaningful partnerships with collaborating organizations, artists, activists, local business owners, environmental experts and city officials, to develop projects of relevance to the student, to create value for the community, and to leave a positive impact on the city and student.

Here are three vignettes of recent connections our students have made as shared by Judy Poirier, a veteran middle school mathematics faculty member, Assistant Head of School, and a teacher in the Cityside Program.  Judy was the coach for these three student groups in their site visits.

Mapping the possibilities for City Parks

Three 8th graders in the Cityside Program met up with Lindsey Langenburg, Landscape Architect at Providence Parks Department, to talk about their Cityside Project Proposal. The students asked her about her work and she shared her incredible knowledge of urban planning and parks development, her experience with wayfinding in New York City, and about how the parks department works to connect with and support Providence communities.  We learned, quite by accident, that Ms. Langenburg is also President of the American Society of Landscape Architects – Rhode Island Chapter. She asked the students if she could feature their project in an upcoming newsletter. But first they introduced themselves and their project idea through an email and set up a time to meet:

Dear Ms. Langenburg,
As you know Wendy Nilsson referred us to you for help with a project we are working on in our Cityside program. We are in the 8th grade at the Wheeler School and through the Cityside curriculum, we are working to identify areas in the city where we can help make improvements.  Our group is interested in making it easier for citizens to explore the environmental and cultural resources they have around them that are possibly hidden due to modern-day distractions or which are not well-publicized. We thought a way we might achieve this goal is by placing signs in certain park areas and the surrounding places. One way we thought we could achieve this goal is by creating maps highlighting new interesting things that residents could do. As a landscape architect, we hope you can help us learn more about public space design. We were wondering if we could schedule an interview with you about our project and perhaps give us some insights into our work.

Sharing veterans’ stories at the Rhode Island VA

Wheeler parent Dr. Qing Lu welcomed a group of Cityside students to the Veteran’s Administration Complex in Providence. Dr. Lu gave students a tour of the VA and explained her research.  She also introduced the students to four of her colleagues at the VA — two 20-plus years veterans who work in administration and two cardiologists. This Cityside team is partnering with the VA to produce some recorded interviews with veterans aimed at helping civilians to better understand the stories of our vets. In addition to hearing the amazing stories of service from the vets, one of the most powerful takeaways from our day was practical advice from the doctors and vets about the kind of questions to ask of veterans, questions that give them an opportunity to share about their service.

As happens, the walk back from the VA yielded satisfying conversations. I asked the kids to tell me about their favorite part of the day, then we talked about their families. I got to hear about uncles, dads, and grandfathers who had served and their service branches (the good-natured competition among the service branches being a focus of the interviews today). The opportunity to have time like this to get to know our kids is an unexpected bonus to this work.

Food composting and accessibility at the oldest flower shop in Providence

The oldest flower shop in Providence, a chemist with a passion for soil and food composting, three young women environmentalists committed to taking advantage of the activism that the Cityside Program offers to them…Today (11/5) I am reflecting on the generosity of the people we have met, as students in the Cityside Program venture out to interview those who contribute to making our slice of Providence near Waterfire Arts Center a better place to live and work.  This is Civics in Action.

When I first talked with this trio of students about what they already knew and what they wanted to pursue in their Cityside Project,  their goal was about increasing accessibility to food composting for schools. So today, Michael Bradlee, the founder of Earth Appliance Organics, generously took time out of his workday to answer their questions about how he took a small organization, started just six years ago, and brought it to the level where a quarter of a million pounds of food scraps have been recycled into “black gold” compost.  Michael started the program in the backyard of Frey Gardens, whose owner, Richard Espeut, generously supported Michael’s vision for developing a community compost depot – the first in Rhode Island. While we waited for Michael to arrive, Richard graciously and spontaneously shared the rich history of his floral business, the oldest in Providence, and the many ways that he connects to his community.

When we got in the car over an hour later, the students and I just looked at each other, big smiles on all of our faces. Not only had we met a remarkable member of the community with whom they shared a passion, with Michael’s quick response of “yes” they found themselves with a more-than-willing mentor for their project work.

I love this work with our students. We are interfacing with people in the neighborhood whom I can only describe as local heroes. Their willingness to work with and mentor our students is extraordinary.

By Judy Poirier, Assistant Head of School
Cityside 8th Grade

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