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Local students learn the art of architecture

Ashland students at select schools are at the end of their architectural “residency programs” this week. Mini construction projects they’ve created will be displayed in Da Vinci’s Garage at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6.

Teachers at Helman Elementary, John Muir School and Willow Wind applied to the Architecture Foundation of Oregon’s (AFO) Architects in Schools (AIS) program last fall. They were matched with a design professional in the program. The design professional spent the past six weeks working with students. Their final project was to build a small-scale design of a large-scale construction plan.

Students learned about designing and building structures, the varying roles and jobs in the industry, communication skills and the environmental impact of construction, according to Kim Knowles, associate director.

“Design is all around us and we make decisions every day that affect our environment,” Knowles said.

According to its website, “AFO works to help Oregonians understand this and to learn how they can contribute to preserving our very special sense of place even as our numbers increase and our presence expands.”

Knowles said the program annually serves 4,800 students in the Portland metropolitan area and in Salem, Stayton, Eugene, Springfield, Central and Southern Oregon. However, these are not the only places the program exists. Knowles said they will provide the program anywhere they can pair an interested design professional and teacher.

The term design professional in this context includes architects, landscape architects, engineers, contractors and urban planners.

“Architects in Schools 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,” Knowles said. “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.”

Christopher Brown is a volunteer architect in his second year of the program. This year he worked alongside Kim Keoppen’s sixth-through-eighth grade classes at Willow Wind. Although he’s there to teach the students, he said he feels as though the students teach him during their sessions.

“Often I bring the tools and provide examples and they really lead the way,” Brown said. “We actually start each semester by making our own sketchbooks from recycled materials and then sketching at the beginning of each class. This year we did an architectural tour of the (Southern Oregon University) campus and talked about different architectural styles over the development of the campus.”

He said his hopes for the students are that they come away with a purpose, that anything they can envision can essentially become a reality, and their only limitation is their imagination.

“I believe architecture is a fundamental part of our experience as humans here on earth,” Brown said. “It is something that we can all relate to in the essence of its simplest form — shelter. It can also inspire, teach and provide a common platform for social interaction across the spectrum.”

The program was implemented in Southern Oregon in 2013, and has grown from originally serving four classrooms to 12 classrooms this year.

The curriculum guide lessons for the program are adaptable for integration into existing classroom curriculum, Knowles said.

“Each residency is designed with that classroom’s goals in mind, utilizing the architects’ expertise, what students already need to be learning in class and lessons from the curriculum guide,” Knowles said.

The schedule of time spent with the design professional is decided between the teacher and volunteer. Usually the volunteer spends about an hour a week over the six-week period in the classroom, Knowles said.

Helman third-grade teachers Kelly Martin and Camille Siders worked alongside engineer Brian Dunagan and architect Ray Kistler. Martin said they kicked off their residency program with a field trip to a recently built housing development, Verde Village, next to the school. They went into a partially-constructed house to learn about how the process would be completed, and also looked at blue-prints.

“This program provided us with materials to create a real-world project that students were excited about,” Martin said. “The lessons that AIS provided us were a great launching point for this project. Camille and I were able to add our understanding of third graders, and Ray and Brian were able to add their excitement and expertise about their professions to create a memorable and hands-on project where students were able to express their creativity and apply new math and writing skills.”

— Contact freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.