Learning by design: Architecture program inspires St. Mary’s students

May, 2016 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, School

architectureBy Mary Owen

St. Mary Elementary School fourth-graders get to show off their architectural skills by participating in the Architecture Foundation of Oregon’s Architects in Schools program.

The statewide six-week residency program for elementary schools is AFO’s longest-running, signature program, in which practicing architects and other design professionals volunteer to partner with classroom teachers.

“Our design professional is Dhee-Ghee Fereshth Palmer of Independence,” said Sarah Woodley, who teaches fourth grade at the Catholic school in Stayton. “Her background is in interior design, but she has previously partnered with other architects in the program.”

Woodley said this is the first time St. Mary has participated. The program serves more than 3,700 students in the Portland Metropolitan area, Central Oregon, Salem, Eugene, Medford and Ashland.

“Our updated curriculum guide supports Oregon’s learning goals and include environmental sustainability content,” Woodley said. “The goal of the program is to develop awareness and understanding of the design and built environment and our responsibility for it among third- through fifth-grade students.”

Julia Bochsler discusses design with St. Mary’s students.

Julia Bochsler discusses design with St. Mary’s students.

The AFO’s program delivers arts programming, environmental understanding, awareness of cultural links to history, understanding responsibility to the natural environment, career awareness and communication skills – “all through the principles and practices of architecture and design,” according to AFO.  “It addresses both understanding of design’s potential for achieving excellence in the continued development of our state, and standard-rich content for increasingly stretched teachers and systems in Oregon’s schools.”

During the course of study, the students will participate in six, two-and-a-half hour sessions with their design volunteer. As well as learning and practicing drawing and design principles, they heard about researching green sustainable materials and energy-efficient construction practices from Sue Bielemeier of Jeld-Wen. They also toured the Immaculate Conception Parish Center before demolition, learning more about architectural periods and styles. They will have role-played as contractor, architect and client; practiced with architectural lettering and reading floor plans; and constructed 3-D residential room models using a historic or modern design and green, sustainable practices such as solar panels, eco-roofs, rainwater harvesters, wind turbines and more.

As well as having a tremendous impact on the students and their motivation to learn, Woodley told AOF that the program was “an incredible opportunity for these rural kids to experience and access resources and professionals in a way that would never have been available otherwise.

“My goal as a teacher is to help my students reach their fullest potential and gain confidence so they can be college and career ready,” she said. “I wholeheartedly believe this program will allow my students the opportunity to do just that.”

Student Jackson Gaul said he knew nothing about styles and houses before participating in the program.

“I thought they were just the same old houses, but they all have a style,” he said. “Another thing I learned was that these styles were used in a particular period of time, which is cool.”

Mark Hammelman enjoyed learning how to build and classify model houses.

“We learned about architecture and how to make a house,” Kollin Schumacher said. “We made an awesome house! I like making the rainwater harvester best. I hadn’t taken measurements for houses before this.”

Erik Silbernagel’s favorite project was making a Popsicle-stick house.

“You had to think about what you had to do and measure instead of just putting it on,” he said.

Tyler Shumacher said, “I never knew what a gable roof was before now. I also know so many styles. My mom even quizzes me, and she learned a lot while helping us, too!”

Woodley said students really enjoyed learning about architectural drawings and recreating them in their drawings and designs.

“They also loved using all the different materials from fabric and pipe cleaners, to Popsicle sticks and glue guns,” she said.

“All too often students forget why they are in school in the first place,” she added. “I want my students to understand that school actually relates to the real world and to begin to make connections from their classroom learning and skills development to life situations. I want to inspire inquiry and thought by giving students an understanding and recognition of construction and the build world around them.”

Woodley also wants her fourth-graders to walk-away with an understanding that successes and failures accompany all achievements, and that they can re-evaluate, make changes and persist with the design to successfully complete a project.

“This class is very creative,” Woodley said. “When asked if they wanted to participate in AiS again, I got a resounding, ‘Yes!’”

The students’ work will be on display during a reception from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on June 1 at AC+CO, 363 State St., during Salem’s First Wednesday Art Walk.

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