“Mister, who’s coming to class today?” asked a curious student from Gene Dean’s 9th grade English class at Roosevelt High School.
As the rest of the class began to take their seats, they took notice of the two tables filled with a random assortment of trinkets and knick-knacks, prompting another student to ask, “Are those toys for kids?”
Enter urban planner James Rojas, who excitedly engaged the students by asking them if they knew what an urban planner did.
Although the answers might have fallen into the category of “kids say the darndest things,” the laughs broke up the awkwardness and allowed Rojas to introduce his interactive “Place It!” workshop. Three of Dean’s 9th grade English classes participated last Monday, a change from the normal routine of reading and essays that students clearly didn’t mind one bit.
Rojas describes his approach to workshops as one that offers “an opportunity for individuals to think critically about spatial organization and urban space and how it affects their everyday lives. The workshops are a means by which participants can imagine how their cities and neighborhoods could be organized differently.”
Having participated in several of Rojas’ workshops before, I knew that while his methodology and execution are consistent, no two workshops are ever the same, and therein lies the beauty of the approach.
The workshops started simply enough, with Dean asking his students to write about a favorite childhood memory in their journals. Rojas followed up by having the kids build small-scale models of their memory, using materials found on the tables.
While some of the kids bemoaned that they didn’t have a favorite memory or that they couldn’t remember anything, none seemed to have any problem scrambling toward the tables to rummage around for items to build with.
From happier memories of going to Disneyland, weddings, and holiday celebrations to more somber ones of family separation and painful accidents, students neither held back nor limited themselves. Read more…