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Community Impact

May 12, 2021

Virtual Learning Expands BSA Kindergarten Program

BSA Volunteering

Screen grab courtesy Kiersten Washle

Over the last four years, the BSA has partnered with Boston Public Schools’ Early Childhood Learning department to help teachers bring their “Construction” unit to life. In this unit, students learn from visiting architects about how cities are built and how different professions come together to create the built environment. This collaboration produced the final project—turned BSA exhibition— called “Our Boston,” in which students collectively design a fun and fair Boston to present to the mayor.

In the past, classroom visits have taken place in person, with students presenting their final projects to classmates, parents, and the mayor at BSA Space. In 2020 with all learning going remote in response to COVID-19, we went back to the drawing board to create materials that families could access online.

For the most recent iteration, as the majority of kindergarten students attended school from home, the BPS Early Childhood Learning department asked the BSA to serve as many students as possible in a virtual format, noting that the students would benefit from this type of activity more now than ever. The BSA put out a call to both BPS kindergarten teachers and architects in the community. We heard from 90 teachers, totaling around 1,200 students, and 80 architects who were interested in participating. Compared to previous years, the virtual format allowed the number of students reached to expand by 300 percent.

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Student sketches

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“I loved the opportunity of getting to share architecture with a younger audience. As a field that has a long way to go in terms of diversity and gender representation, having students learn what exactly an architect is early on can help ensure that future generations of children are exposed to a potential career path that could impact their career decisions in the future,” says Emeka Ukaga Assoc. AIA, one of the volunteers who committed their time.

The BSA’s youth design education program—run by Director of Public Programs Polly Carpenter FAIA and Design Education Fellow Taylor Johnson—trained volunteer architects virtually and matched them with classrooms, totaling 75 virtual classroom visits in Boston, and five in Cambridge. After translating this program to a virtual setting last year, Carpenter and Johnson knew how to optimize the virtual experience for all involved.

“We put together a slide deck that was more interactive and mindful of the ZOOM experience, and we created a hands-on guide to drawing for the students,” Carpenter explained. The team also facilitated presentations in Spanish, Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Cantonese.

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Students' drawings come together in a new 'street' for Boston

Despite the limitations this format presented, volunteers and teachers reported this did not limit students’ imaginations.

“I was blown away by how much thought and detail they were able to put into drawing hospitals, schools, offices, or homes, and how they were acutely aware that these spaces would be inhabited by people which they had to design for,” Ukaga recounts of his experience.

Feedback from teachers was equally enthusiastic. In a post-visit survey, 100 percent of respondents said they would participate in the program in the future. One educator commented “This was my first time participating in this and I LOVED it! It was such a great way to enhance their learning!"

Brennan Street view with childrens building designs March 2021

Glenn Davis AIA, one of the architect volunteers created this artistic compilation of the students' ideas