Sean Finn has been with Rhawnhurst Elementary for seven years. While he has worn many hats, his current one is Guidance Counselor for the K-5 school in Northeast Philadelphia. He loves his job because it keeps him on his toes and allows him to grow while working with many age groups. Mr. Finn has assisted with onboarding six teachers in the ADE program in just the past school year and believes it is a crucial part of the connectedness within the community. His goal is to keep the partnership and connectedness at the forefront of Rhawnhurst as much as possible in the future.
Q: Think back to when you first learned about the program. Why did your school choose to partner with ADE?
A: “As a school counselor, I coordinate our Career Day. Last year I reached out to the Center of Architecture and Design because it is often an underrepresented field. Unfortunately, due to COVID setbacks, we postponed our career day. Michael Spain and Liza Niles reached out because they had a more sustainable program for the classroom. Knowing our staff always wants to be part of a new process that widens student experiences, I knew it would be a good fit. I spoke with three teachers who always put in extra effort for our students. To no surprise, they were on board. We just ran from there. It was the best silver lining possible out of a canceled event.”
Q: How has the program made a difference in the school community, either inside or outside of classroom walls?
A: “Our school usually has around 30+ languages which mean there are a lot of different cultures, customs, and ideas. I believe that is one of our strengths. With your program, they explore a common language through lived environments and spaces that we all share. It helps build on our community, culture, collaboration, and creativity where students come together through design. I hear conversations like, "This idea came from my family tradition" and their peers respond with how they can add that to their mutual design project. It is in sync with what Rhawnhurst is trying to do with the school - bring all these folks together as one. That is why it was such a natural match with ADE”
Q: In what ways has this program supported your curriculum?
A: “The program promotes and inspires thinking, not just along a career path but for a current path here at Rhawnhurst. The warm fuzzy feelings our teachers get are from seeing a great grade or data reflecting learning, but, with this, there is a twist. The way it is interactive adds a level to the learning already happening here using this supplemental media. Beginning in the classroom with models and then leading into class trips around the neighborhood, students who have had ADE in their class will have their eyes drawn to things that other students may not have without this programming. Students are translating what they learn in ADE to what they see in their neighborhoods. They know they can one day be a part of that because they have direct experience with that process from start to finish."
Q: How did the students at Rhawnhurst respond to welcoming the program into their classrooms?
A: “Hearing students discuss these things and give feedback not just to me but to teachers and staff members has been enlightening. Students are sponges and they soak up everything. That’s what we're finding out even more here at Rhawnhurst with this program being installed. ADE has such a positive impact. Everyone who touches it leaves with something, especially the students.”
Q: As a guidance counselor in such a diverse school, how does ADE support your school’s goals?
A: “One of the perceived barriers of a school like ours is that some students are not aware of the technology available, or due to language barriers, some may struggle to understand what is read in class. But with ADE, they can still understand what a building is, take the direction of the volunteers, and be able to positively contribute at the same level as a student whose first language is English. That common thread of architecture, design, and creating spaces can empower students, especially being as inclusive as it is.”
Q: What would you personally like to see next from ADE at Rhawnhurst?
A: “I'll cheat and break it into “Part A” and “Part B”. “Part A” is the easy part - a sustained relationship. A two-way street of ideas of sharing knowledge and our students continuing to learn. Not just the students who benefited this year but to hopefully encourage more classes and volunteers to get the word out so we can reach more students at Rhawnhurst. “Part B” would be having a student-based design to reimagine our play space. It’s a blank space with blacktop and grass but no play equipment. It is a little lofty, but maybe multiple partnerships can come together to redesign something small for the space. It would be a fully inclusive process and an area that would tie into our shared mission and students’ self-efficacy. I can see it having a lasting impact on Rhawnhurst through collaboration with the ADE program and with guidance from volunteers.”
Q: If you were speaking with another PhilaSD guidance counselor interested in the program, what would you like them to know about ADE?
A:“ It doesn't take long to see the benefits of this- the excitement for the visits, the opportunity for the students to be creative, to think critically. So much of design comes from not just your spur-of-the-moment thoughts for invention but also problem-solving. For example, Mr. Thomas's class came up with some storage units for their desks that are still in use. It was a practical solution to the issues happening in real time. It isn’t always a career-future-based program. This is in-the-moment results with excitement, equity, and a teamwork approach. The benefits are tremendous in those aspects while the commitment is worthwhile. This comes from teachers coming back with similar input and feedback saying “This was great! The volunteers are open-minded and working with us. I don't feel pushed to the side as a classroom teacher, but part of this process along with each student in here”. It shows it is not an exclusive club. Architecture and design education welcomes everyone if they're willing to contribute something positive. This is a fantastic preview of what may lie ahead for our future friends.”
“If you can design one thing, you can design everything.” – Massimo Vignelli More...