Community engagement is built into the Winchester Thurston School’s City as Our Campus program.
From kindergarten through graduation, teachers and administrators advance the goal of interacting with the community to become active and engaged citizens. Each course unit and project strengthens students’ understanding of the importance of community, building a solid foundation as they move further beyond the classroom, exploring Pittsburgh’s communities themselves and engaging more meaningfully with their neighbors.
Kindergarteners tend plants and vegetables through Garden Exploration, learning about everything from composting to cooking with fresh ingredients. Along the way, they’re also receiving a firm introduction to the skills needed to live and work in harmony with others—the beginning of community engagement.
That engagement develops throughout students’ time in the Lower School. Working with partners like the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and the Carnegie Museum of Art, first-graders explore their surroundings through the study of architecture and urban design. Classroom discussions center on questions about why and how community spaces are designed, and how urban design affects a community’s health.
Through the Happy and Healthy Communities unit, second-graders explore the essential services of a community and how those services work together to help a community function successfully. They meet with local experts and visit sites where these essential services are provided. The unit culminates in students constructing model communities with recycled materials and role-playing scenarios like power outages and business closures, collaborating as a team to solve these problems.
Middle School students build on these experiences with more self-directed projects. Eighth-graders develop their research skills by choosing a human and social rights issue of personal interest and collaborating with a local community expert to draft research questions and learn about current issues related to their selected topic. In addition to writing a research paper, students develop a plan of action to address the issue, presenting it not just to their teachers but to peers and community members.
As students move to the Upper School, their engagement with community issues deepens. City as Our Campus helps locate community partners who will challenge students to engage meaningfully with ongoing issues, demonstrating the many ways students can act as interested and engaged citizens.
Research Science emphasizes the application of science through prototype development, pushing students to identify problems and then by research, design, and fabricate products that address them. Past products have ranged from a module to detect and fix potholes to 3D-printed prostheses for children in war-torn countries.
Urban Research and Design, a year-long course, pushes students to consider the forces that shape cities. Students research efforts to renew cities and create sustainable communities, then consider specific examples of local redevelopment projects. They conduct site visits and meet with local agencies, master site planners, business owners, community members, and other stakeholders to consider fully the many facets of urban redevelopment projects. Identifying problems facing communities in Pittsburgh, students also collaborate with local nonprofits working to address those issues. Final projects included detailed redevelopment proposals, including models of their plans for designated sites and designs of programs aimed at addressing specific problems in the community.
Through their experiences with City as Our Campus, students emerge from Winchester Thurston not only with an understanding of what it means to be an engaged, active citizen, but with the skills and confidence needed to go out and effect change in their own communities.