Middle school is often thought of as a tortuous place. It's in between the eagerness and openness found in elementary school, and the freedom and self-exploration that emerges in high school. Middle school serves as the lowly netherworld.
However, when APA Ambassadors from Hartford, Connecticut-based planning firm FHI arrived after the final bell on Friday at King Philip Middle School in West Hartford, we witnessed the eagerness, openness, freedom, and exploration among a roomful of tween girls.
These students take part in a school year program, called Girls Are Brave. Their weekly meetings are led by a college-age Brave intern, who organizes activities that promote self-esteem, empowerment, and contributing to a better world. The girls are in grades 6, 7, and 8, are natives of many diverse countries!
We established a relationship with Girls Are Brave based on shared missions — to improve our communities. Through distinct lines of work, both our planning firm and the nonprofit value inclusion, diversity, and social engagement.
Kids around the mosiac table. Photo courtesy Shawna Kitzman, AICP.
Our team of Ambassadors, including two public involvement specialists, an environmental planner, and our firm's finance manager, held a series of sessions to weave the concept of planning with interactive activities. We wanted to spark their creative thinking about community, while keeping it fun and simple. These were Friday afternoons, after all!
After two sessions last year, we learned that the girls were eager to do a craft project.
Where does planning intersect with arts and crafts? we asked ourselves. (As a planner with a fine arts background, this was right up my alley!) Our team decided to introduce zoning, which would segue into art project using cut paper to create mosaics.
To keep the lesson efficient, we created legends and mosaic kits ahead of time — cut paper representing different uses, such as open space, multi-family housing, industrial, and a fabulous shiny paper that encouraged students to determine a "special use."
Working in small groups, students considered juxtaposition of uses. With pop music playing in the background, the girls focused on their mosaics. (Some Ambassadors created mosaics, too.) After about 20 minutes of laying out and gluing (and chatting with friends), they were ready to share their masterpieces.
Their artwork was impressive and their thought processes apparent. No two mosaics looked alike. Talking through their mosaics, they explained why they placed schools near parks, why they placed housing away from industrial uses, and what their "special uses" were — a book shop cluster, beach, and unicorn park, to name a few. The Ambassadors reflected on their zoning decisions, and how, when applied to real life, such decisions shape our communities over time.
The girls were happy to take home their artwork, and we were happy to introduce them to zoning while enjoying a mellow yet productive afternoon.
Top Image: Girls show their mosaics, made as part of the APA Ambassador event at their school. Photo courtesy Shawna Kitzman, AICP.
About the Author
Shawna Kitzman, AICP
Shawna Kitzman is a senior planner with FHI, a planning firm with offices in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. She focuses on public outreach for transportation projects, and never misses an opportunity to infuse creativity with the planning process. Contact Kitzman at email@example.com