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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Children as Community Builders: Introducing Interdependence to Education

Dec 04, 2017 09:19PM ● By Jenna Roche

Ambassadors Tatum and Chloe

Children are rarely exposed to interdependence in their day-to-day lives. They have bursts of the concept thrust upon them as players on sports teams, contributors to school projects and actors in theater productions, but it is not regularly modeled for children in meaningful ways. This is a shame as interdependence is at the heart of every strong community.

Workspace Education in Bethel is seeking to bring interdependence to the everyday of education. During its first year, the center has established itself as a place where parents, students, educators and professionals collaborate to realize a custom education for every child. Using a membership model where families come together—literally and figuratively—to design and field classes, solve real-world problems, Workspace Education creates an environment where children can develop essential 21st century skills.

The potential of the Workspace community is unlocked by giving people a voice, empowering students and adults alike, and putting to work each individual’s unique strengths. The power of the community is realized when members work together. A new class does not get launched without a child who articulates a passion, a parent who defines the scope, a staff member who broadcasts the opportunity, an educator who listens and delivers, families who embrace the idea, and students who take ownership and dive in.

Workspace is building amongst its students a comfort with and appreciation for interdependency. Children are learning from the beginning that more gets done when more are involved. Along the way, their capacities for compassion, empathy and respect blossom. With those skills, children are finding their paths not only as community members, but also as community builders.

Tatum is one example of a young “Workspacian” who is finding her legs as a community builder. She would see families who were considering membership touring the building with a staff member and believed her voice as a student would be meaningful to the visiting children. She envisioned for herself a role in growing the community.
Tatum laid out her plan for becoming the first workspace student ambassador to Dream Director Jenai Fitzpatrick, a staff member whose primary role is to help students manifest their big ideas. To become qualified, Tatum interviewed staff, explored the capabilities of every learning space and wrote a tour script. When she had earned the title, she also asked Jon Marchand, the workspace tech wizard, to show her how to use the laser cutter to engrave her ambassador badge.

While Tatum had her sights set on a role to help expand the community, another student worked toward strengthening it. Chloe, a high school junior, knows creativity is a pathway to understanding other people. Her project, Sonder, a literary journal, was a student-driven effort supported by a parent advisory board. This was her vehicle for bringing the community together in an interactive way, where innovative work—both collaborative and individual—could be shared and celebrated. 

“We had 20 contributors aged 7 to 17; they were all eager to get involved from the beginning,” explains Chloe. Giving students the opportunity to showcase their art, fiction and poetry to the community in the form of a glossy publication validated their efforts and helped them build confidence in their creative talents.

Where class projects are exceptions to the rule in traditional education, collaboration is normal at Workspace. Take, for example, the 21CI framework that inspires the content of several Workspace courses. In these courses, critical 21st century skills—such as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication—are nurtured through integrated content and embedded technology.

A class of 21CI students aged 14 and older has chosen their coursework to help solve a recycling problem in our global community. Seeking to take control of the process away from large recycling plants, the team is building an in-house shredder. They will use their output to produce filament for 3D printers and a line of household goods.

The students divided responsibilities into research and development, marketing, and building the machine. With collaboration the go-to strategy for every Workspacian, the students reached out to a neighboring metalworking business to help them bridge the gap between the prototypes the students crafted in-house and the actual parts needed for their machine.

Through such projects, Workspacians are mastering skills as children in the areas that many adults find most challenging, such as making meaningful connections, building consensus, appreciating differences and living interdependently.

For more information on Workspace Education and community-based learning, contact Jenna Roche, Director of Vision Alignment at Workspace Education, at 203-309-0384 or [email protected]. Also connect at See ad, page 3.

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