Students try hands at urban planning

Third graders role-play with assemblyman

Posted: Friday, February 20, 2009

For the last five weeks, 50 third graders at Riverbend Elementary School have been using part of their Thursday morning to role-play as urban planners for a city of their own design.

"My building is apartments, because people can't afford houses," said Cyrene Uddipa, 8, pointing to a three-dimensional mock-up of an apartment building on the imaginary city's map hanging on the wall of Donita Jerue's classroom.

Kathy Tran, 9, pointed to a school situated in a mix of homes, a location that would save gas and let kids walk, she said.

"My dad drives me, but it would be nice to walk," Tran said.

There's a wonderfully uncluttered clarity to their decision making that smacks of real-world challenges with affordable housing and fuel costs.

It's probably not a coincidence.

Real-world Juneau Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker led the mini-course in Jerue and Caryn Walker's classes, part of a program called Junior Achievement, which brings volunteers with expertise in various fields into classrooms for mini-courses that foster entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy through practical exercises. The course wrapped up this week.

"They're more aware than they realize," Wanamaker said. "They know this information because it's such a part of their world. They're adults in their world around them that talk about this, and now it has a meaning for them as a result of the planning and zoning class."

During week one, Jerue said she hoped the program would help the children make a better connection with the community.

"What is a city? What does it mean to them? Did they think about what goes into the planning process?" were among some of Jerue's questions to her students.

Glance at the kids' city and parse their words, and it sounds like the answer to all three questions is yes.

Wanamaker even built a lesson around news that broke a few weeks ago of a $45 million office building the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority is planning downtown, something Tran and Uddipa said was exciting and cool to learn about.

"What I think they took out of it is that people should participate in the process, these things don't just happen," Wanamaker said. "They can be a part of it if they choose to, and in some ways, as good citizens they should be involved."

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