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Jun 2001 / young minds :: email this story to a friend

Building Community from Behind a Counter
By Jeanne Boland

Seventh grade students at The College School spend their spring trimester taking a closer look at their fair city in a theme class called Urban Experience. They formulate their own ideas and viewpoints as to what makes communities work and thrive, and discover ways to strengthen and improve them.

Themes for this year's class centered on renovation and revitalization. Considering St. Louis as a river city, students began the year with a simulation in which they revitalized the riverfront, writing and presenting proposals for developments to attract diverse populations to the waterway. Another simulation allowed students to build their own city, demonstrating how cities developed in the first place out of farmland and settlements.

Students at TCS don't stay in the classroom for long, and they were soon on their way to explore the city firsthand, with stops to the riverfront, Laclede's Landing, downtown and Old North St. Louis. Then they turned their attention to the established communities of the Central West End, the Hill and the University City Loop.

working at Tomatillo

In the spirit of true experiential education, students received apprenticeships with businesses in these areas in order to get behind the scenes. No longer just visitors or consumers in these communities, students now were responsible for participating in the urban fabric from a fresh perspective. In this way, they honed job skills, interacted with the public and developed relationships with business owners, managers and employees. Along the way, they conducted in-depth studies of these neighborhoods by interviewing individuals in the communities, making observations, and seeking out quality sources of information. In addition, seventh graders developed a new appreciation for these communities and St. Louis as a whole.

As a culminating experience, TCS seventh graders ventured to Chicago for a four-day exploration of its urban core and a few of its ethnic neighborhoods. By now, their investigative skills had sharpened and they were true adventurers. Spirits were high and the action was non-stop. Comparisons between the two cities were made as students debated such issues as preservation and development. As the students returned to St. Louis, their focus turned to the qualities they enjoy about our city. Upon crossing the river and viewing the downtown skyline, cheers erupted in the bus and we knew once again the importance and impact of this class.

You can read more about the seventh grade's journey into community by visiting their web page. Click on the links for in-depth information on their city-building simulation and their job experiences.

Jeanne Boland teaches seventh grade at The College School in Webster Groves.

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