The setting is Unalaska High School in Unalaska, Alaska: a small, remote island community in the Aleutian chain.
The goal is to get youth engaged with the planning profession to under stand how development occurs and what factors need to be considered.
I had obtained permission from a teacher to use at least one class period to talk with her 5th and 6th grade students about planning. My original goal was to teach to the high school level, so the plan had to be modified.
Anthony Grande, AICP, talking with kids about planning in Unalaska, Alaska. Photo courtesy Anthony Grande.
We began with a simple broad discussion about planning. As always, I allowed the students to set the tone at the beginning by asking them questions about what they know.
Although I had one of the Prezi presentations up on the board, I hardly used it because the discussion had a life of its own.
I simplified things by presenting tangible scenarios, such as: "Imagine this open land is right outside your bedroom window. Do you think you might be concerned about what someone builds on that land? Name something you would like to see built there and something you would not like to see built there?"
This got the students' wheels turning, thinking about how development impacts everybody. Then it is easy to tie it back to planning and how looking at the big picture helps make those things better for everybody. We even had a discussion of zoning, and the students remembered what it was when I quizzed them on it later.
Having not been able to conceptualize the level of the 5th and 6th graders ahead of time, I needed Day 1 to help figure out what activity would be appropriate. I sent an idea to the teacher of the class for a possible activity, hoping for some feedback from her.
The steps were: 1) Hand out notecards to students; 2) Have everyone write down what they think should be on a piece of land that everyone knows well (like the open space next to the school); 3) Put everyone's ideas together and try to come to a consensus for what to put there; 4) Hand out construction paper and have each student sketch how s/he envisions the space; 5) Repeat step 3.
It turned out that the teacher liked the idea so much, she simply did it with the students on Day 2 without me! This was a spontaneous continuation of the event, which was surviving on its own momentum!
Students wrote on notecards what they wanted to see on well-known pieces of land. Photo by Anthony Grande.
I returned to the class to check in with the students and see the final results.
We had a lengthy discussion of what they learned and how the activity made them think about putting people's different development ideas together.
They remembered about zoning! And they were speaking intelligently about the importance of the planning process. It was clear that they had learned a lot from the activity.
Top image: Kids' ideas of how open space will be used in their community. Photo by Anthony Grande, AICP, City of Unalaska Department of Planning.
About the Author
Anthony Grande, AICP, is an APA Ambassador and planning director with the City of Unalaska, Alaska.