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Monday, March 25, 2013

Holding on for Hold Fast

These days, I’m holding on for Hold Fast; it’s a traveling spring.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve visited many schools in many places and will continue to travel through April.  I am at my most relaxed when with kids, and I have been hearing many surprising, excellent and touching questions.  In addition, I’ve heard or read heart-warming, startlingly wonderful comments from sources of all ages, and at all times of day -- in schools, bookstores and library talks, in a flow of reviews, in outspoken and beautifully-written online blogs. 
I’m not good at taking pictures at each school I visit – I wish I were.  I’m all in the moment, the moment is over, I’m back in a car, and whoosh!  Life goes on.   However, last week I was in a public school near downtown St. Louis that was so unusual that I need to share some of what I saw.  There is much in the news these days about public schools and what’s wrong with them.  Sometimes there is lots right.

I walked into the Maplewood Richmond Heights Elementary School, in Richmond Heights, Missouri, and stopped.  What – a Banksy-inspired painting?  A close-to-Lichtenstein?  An unusual piece of art designed to honor and support a center for homeless boys?

This is a school with social justice overtones that structures projects around a theme each year, supporting their budget with grants and the input of local artists.  This year, the theme was exploring the idea and metaphor of ‘School as Museum’, and the kids had painted, built, researched and designed some amazing exhibits.  The topics were issues they felt needed some museum attention, like bullying; the environment; drug use in neighborhoods; poverty in the world around us. Kids were obviously building and documenting knowledge using real-world issues and problems, and I could see that Ms. Hussey and I, if we’d been invited to teach there, could have jumped right in. 
In this photo, a group of sixth graders pose in front of an exhibit which studies both interrelated facts and some proposed solutions to poverty and homelessness. 
I was on a schedule and couldn’t stay long, but the whiff of powerful yet heartfelt critical thinking that I witnessed there is still with me.  After my talk, I grabbed my phone and took these pictures.  For anyone wanting to get a close look at an awesome constructivist curriculum in a public school setting, I say, Go to St. Louis!  Visit the MRH kids, as they call themselves.  Hold fast for some powerful learning. 
And, by the way, the kids seemed pretty excited about Hold Fast, which makes me happy.  


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