Students lauded for future city designs
Park City Day School groups take home awards in competition
Students today won’t be able to thrive in the economy of tomorrow without a diverse set of skills.
That’s why it was so encouraging for Park City Day School teachers Charlotte Friedman and Jesse Levesque to watch seventh-grade students thrive in a semester-long group project to research and design future cities. The assignment culminated late last month, when two of the most successful groups showed off their projects at a regional competition in Boise, Idaho.
Friedman said the skills the students learned during the project served them well at the competition — and will continue to do so well into the future.
“If you are flexible, if you have these great skills of collaboration, teamwork and being able to research and think about a problem and solve it, you’ll be able to go far in the future,” she said. “If you only know one thing, you won’t be as adaptable to the new economy, which I think is going to be changing a lot in the next 20 years. We’re hoping our students will be better prepared for that.”
One of the groups, called Straight Out of PC, designed a city on Antarctica, won a special award for best project plan and finished third place in the overall competition. The other, The Land Far Away, dreamed up a future version of Dubai. The group’s model of using wind and solar energy to power the city, then selling the excess energy to other cities, won an award for most comprehensive use of smart grid technology.
It was the second straight year students from the school excelled at the competition. Last year, a group that designed an underwater city won an award for innovation.
“As a school, our philosophy is to have collaborative, integrated projects,” Friedman said. “So this fits perfectly into our philosophy. Students aren’t just learning about how cities are designed, but they are also learning how to communicate and collaborate and how to research. And it’s an authentic process because they decide what they’re going to do and figure out the problems they’re going to solve.”
For their part, the students said they enjoyed participating in the project and learned a lot over the course of it. Olivia Tracey, one of the students who helped design the Antarctica city, said it forced them to confront some of the most challenging problems city planners will be facing for generations.
“We really had to think about how the atmosphere and the climate would be changed in the future, and we had to work around those problems, or maybe even solve those problems,” she said. “We chose to put our city in Antarctica so that we wouldn’t be affected as much by the climate change.”
Cliffey Burkemper said his team chose to build a future version of Dubai because of its diversity and array of attractions. However, it also gave them a chance to dig into meaty issues, like pollution and a lack of public space.
“It had a lot of problems that we wanted to solve,” he said.
Levesque said the project is special because it pushes students. While the teachers implement deadlines to keep them on task, the students are given free rein to complete their cities how they wish. And they know that, if they don’t put in enough hard work, they’ll flounder on stage at the competition. That pressure, and being forced out of their comfort zones, is an experience they’ll remember.
Fortunately, the students thrived under the burden. Though the project wasn’t always easy, the research the students did, and the care they took in perfecting even the smallest details of their cities, shone through during the competition.
“It was really great going to the competition and seeing their work and knowing it was 100 percent them,” Levesque said. “It was great to watch them speak so articulately and confidently about what they had done. It was really evident to us, and hopefully the people questioning them, that they had really researched and really knew their stuff. It was incredible.”
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.