The 8th grade students of George B. Armstrong School of International Studies, on Chicago’s north side, participated in an interactive classroom activity to learn about urban planning and to understand that they have a voice in their community. Jaemi Jackson, AICP, LEED AP, with the assistance of Katanya Raby, facilitated five workshops for five 8th Grade Social Science classes on May 11, 2018.
Armstrong is a diverse K-8 Chicago Public School (CPS) that enrolls 1,376 students. Located in the West Ridge community area, the school is comprised of 26% black, 22% Asian, 8% white, and 43% Hispanic students, and nearly 92% of the student body are low income. The school is designated a Level 1+ school by the CPS School Quality Rating System, the highest available rating, which reflects strong academic performance.
To begin each workshop, students were introduced to planning through a short presentation, which included images and examples of cities across the globe. Students were then asked to think locally and define their community. Using map and markers, students outlined the places they consider part of their community, which included the school, local parks, and transit systems.
Once the community was defined, students in each class created a comprehensive list of the issues facing their community. The lists of concerns included trash, violence, traffic, parking, and need for more gardens, street lights, and shopping opportunities. A top concern among students was the large amount of dog feces that owners fail to pick up throughout the neighborhood.
With their newly-gained knowledge of issues that can affect a community, students worked in groups to map out the future of the community through the redevelopment of a local site. This included identifying appropriate land uses, transportation infrastructure, and other public improvements. Students in nearly all groups were confronted with the challenge of coming to consensus. The students respectfully argued, bantered, and toyed with a variety of land use scenarios. The chosen development concepts were then presented to the class by each group.
Through these exercises, students learned that planning is a complex profession. It requires careful analysis of existing conditions and issues, as well as consensus-building skills. Further, a concept that was stressed by the instructor, Ms. Alison Mays, students learned that they have a voice and the power to influence changes within their community.
About the Program
The American Planning Association (APA) Ambassador Program is a volunteer activity led by members of the American Planning Association with the goal of increasing awareness and understanding of the power and value that the planning profession brings to communities. Particular emphasis is placed on reaching audiences of diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds.