Connecting Children to Community
The Connecting Children to Community Project is a collaborative effort between a University, a local high school and a local community. For the past three years, a faculty member of the Urban Studies and the Planning (URSP) Program at the University of Maryland has met with students at a local high school to present the principles and practices of the urban planning profession. Through lectures, discussions, group activities, field projects and the support of the local community, high school students have been introduced to the art of community study. In Fall 2006, students focused their attention on the revitalization efforts of a nearby downtown area, and to document how the community has responded to recent changes. During this period, the high school students assessed community conditions, developed recommendations for future actions, and shared their results with the local redevelopment authority. As part of this effort, high school students learned to conduct first hand research, developed familiarity in data gathering methods including field observation and in-person interviewing. They also gained experience in the use of personal data assistants (PDAs) as data collection tools. With these skills they prepared a “SWOT” analysis which detailed the community’s strengths and weaknesses as well as identified opportunities for and threats to community improvement. They presented their conclusions and recommendations to the local redevelopment agency, community residents and business owners. This paper discusses the expected and realized project benefits to the students; the institutions involved, and the local community; describes the processes used to engage students, and concludes with a discussion of the lessons learned from the experience. The results provide a framework for action by other high schools, Universities and communities considering implementing a similar model of student involvement.
Keywords: University Partnership, Community Study, Urban Planning, High School Curriculum
Associate Professor, Urban Studies and Planning Program