Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Breaking new (and old) ground at South Atlanta

The Courtyard

The courtyard!
The courtyard! The courtyard!
Why can't we hang in the courtyard?
What can't we read in the courtyard?
Why can't we run in the courtyard?
Why do we have the courtyard?

- written by a student from Lucretia Wearring's 2002 MOID class

In the fall of 2006, South Atlanta High School began its transformation. The large, generic South Atlanta High School started its shift into four, small learning communities – the School of Law and Social Justice, the School of Computer Science and Engineering, the School of Heath Sciences and Research, and the School of Leadership and Economic Empowerment. The school building also began its transformation to house the four new, smaller schools. While the students and teachers moved to a temporary school site, the construction crews went to work.

During their work at the school, the construction crew found an old art project tucked away in a classroom closet. Student photographs and poems pressed in between clear plastic. The poems and photographs described the school's courtyard and how the students were not allowed to use that space. Taken with the student's words and artwork, the construction workers took the project and hung it in their site office.

The artwork was actually from an APAL partnership in the winter of 2002. Artist Jeff Mather and special education teacher Lucretia Wearring partnered together to use photography as a catalyst to unlock their students' thoughts, feelings and writing abilities. Using the school's courtyard as a theme, students photographed the space and then reflected on how that space was closed off to them. Writing about their own photography and experiences allowed these students to really engage in the writing process. Ms. Wearring noted that, “for the first time, the students turned in papers that were readable, grade-able, and extremely impactful.”

Those students words definitely made an impact on the workers who were renovating South Atlanta's school site. When the school principals went for a tour of the renovated school building, they were asked if the students would be allowed to use the building's new courtyards. Surprised the principals responded yes, of course, but why did they ask. The workers explained their discovery of the students' art work and how they had been struck by it. The students' questions and thoughts resonated with the workers reminding them to keep in mind who would live, learn and appreciate the new building – the students.

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