In the past year, the Center for Architecture and Design's Architecture and Design Education program has been expanding in many ways. The program has made its way into 15 Philadelphia School District classrooms this fall led by 32 volunteers. More than doubling in size since the beginning of the year, the program has had many "firsts" recently but there is one that has truly touched everyone involved. Dara Fleischman eagerly welcomed us into her autistic support classroom where she teaches seven 3rd-5th graders. Our team knew they would have to find extremely creative and dedicated volunteers for this class. The perfect fit came along when ADE joined forces with Beatriz Vergara Aller from WRT Design and Sam Siegel from Ballinger.
Ms. Fleischman, Sam, and Beatriz collaborated to design weekly lessons for the students, and the engagement and social-emotional growth were outstanding. Upon entering Fleischman's classroom, you would see students deeply engaged in creating an entire model city while sitting at a table together. Beatriz was busy guiding students on how to creatively organize their streets while Sam encouraged students to share ideas about building a bridge over a body of water. "This group work is usually not possible. Normally, I would spend most of the group work time redirecting students as it can sometimes be challenging, " said Fleishman. As students sat amongst their peers, they worked together to build a community with roads, street signs, homes, essential businesses, and even an airport. Fleischman commented that the students are so engaged in the ADE lessons that they can often carry on with them after volunteers leave, turning the topics into vocabulary lessons or math lessons. Dara Fleischman has also noticed an increase in attendance specifically on days when volunteers were there. "My attendance has been perfect on Thursdays because they all want to be here when they are building the city with the volunteers”, she said.
One of the most remarkable yet simple moments was a young man answering a question one of the ADE team members had asked him. Although it may seem small, Ms. Fleischman later told us that the young man severely struggles with communication, especially with strangers, and that the program likely built his confidence up so that he was able to express himself in new ways. The one undeniable thing about Ms. Fleischman's room is the energy that filled it. Between Beatriz, Sam, Ms. Fleischman, and all the students, the room overflowed with curious energy and diligence that only comes from a true love of learning. This classroom leads the way as a stunning example of what can happen when students are introduced to architecture and design in the classroom.
“If you can design one thing, you can design everything.” – Massimo Vignelli More...