Architecture students teach classes on sustainability at elementary school

| Staff Reporter

Washington University is giving students at St. Louis public school Patrick Henry Downtown Academy reason to look forward to Mondays.

Every week Washington University students visit the school and act as student-teachers.

More than 20 of these student-teachers are overseen by Gay Lorberbaum, senior lecturer at the School of Architecture & Urban Design, and earn credit for participating in the Explore & Contribute: Collaboration between Washington University & Henry Elementary School program.

According to the school’s principal, Esperansa Veal, children from preschool to sixth grade enjoy the weekly sustainability classes provided by University students.

Sophomore Emily Treece is equally excited by the potential and enthusiasm of the elementary students. Treece teaches second graders with two other University students about ecosystems and energy use.

“They ask questions that make me stop and think twice about how things work and why things exist in the way they do,” Treece wrote in an e-mail to Student Life. “I believe that by simply listening to what the children have to say, you can nurture both their mind and spirit simultaneously.”

Treece was equally impressed by the students’ intellectual capabilities.

“The intelligence of the children is astonishing,” she wrote. “Without the enthusiasm of the children, this program would not succeed.”

The University students are divided into teaching teams that develop curricula for their classes based on their interests. Lessons are designed around certain themes for each grade level to help children understand their individual influence on the environment.

“All of our curriculum are designed around the idea of sustainability and introducing the idea of living a greener life,” said Emily Jacobson, another student-teacher.

Jacobson and her partners focus their lessons on how students can build sustainable relationships with themselves and others, and on applying that self-confidence in environmental sustainability.

“When you understand yourself and you understand the roles you play in your different relationships, you can improve them and make them more sustainable,” she added. “So we focused each week on a different relationship: One was friend, one was activist, [and] one was student.”

The work of University students has even rippled into the community; according to Veal, parents are curious about their children’s projects.

The sustainability courses are only one component Henry Elementary is adopting into the curriculum to achieve its goal of becoming the first GREEN Model Pilot School in the nation. Other efforts also include increasing natural light use, adopting a recycling program and installing energy-efficient lighting.

School administrators developed the GREEN Model guidelines after superintendent Kelvin Adams gave St. Louis public schools the opportunity to develop curriculum goals independently. The St. Louis Public School District further challenged these pilot programs to meet district goals in student performance, teaching quality, family involvement and budgeting.

Veal and her colleagues believe that through these hands-on courses, students not only will be excited to study science, math and writing, but also will be passionate about lifelong learning.

“With Wash. U., when the students come in and they are teaching the lesson and…making it hands-on…it’s more meaningful for the kids,” Veal said. “It’s a truly life-changing experience for everyone involved here at Patrick Henry.”

According to Veal, some children even want to attend the University after high school because of these science classes.

Lorberbaum also leads the Alberti Program-Architecture for Young People, in which undergraduates and graduates work with elementary, middle and high school students in creating sustainable architectural designs.

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