Grade 5 Students Discover Home at Eco Center Residency

Amidst the new landscape of the 412 facility, Grade 5 students were immersed in an eight-day residency, where they used interdisciplinary skills to understand what it takes to build sustainable communities and to examine the question: What makes a house a home? 

Designed by Grade 5 teachers Carline Bennett, Kate McGivney, Steph Romary, Ben Gantcher, Priya Nagrani, Luca Graham and Ecology Program Director Brandon Kraft and Ecology Program Assistant Sheri Kusatzky, the residency was poised around examining structural components of a house’s material and design, as well as investigating the intangible elements that construct the essence of “home.” 

The residency began with a full day of learning at 91st Street with engineers from JB&B Engineering: creating renderings, building circuitry and identifying engineering components of the built spaces around them laid a foundation of vocabulary and curiosity for the week to come. “We wanted to prioritize the physical house first,” said Kraft. “What does it take to build a structure and make it safe?”

During the 412 residency, students applied these concepts to build their own models that they would later strength test, keeping geometrical shapes and buttressing in mind. 

In English class, reading the memoir A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw and studying poetry related to “home” prepared students to articulate their own understanding of the concept, and all of the intangible aspects related to it. They then used creative writing to illustrate their personal idea of a dream home and imagine their life in it.

Students formally recognized indigenous peoples as the original stewards of land through land acknowledgements, and then broke into assigned constituency groups to create an imaginary city called Spence. “The city of Spence was responding to climate change issues, like sea levels rising and drought,” said Kraft. “These different constituencies spanned all three homerooms, giving students a chance to work outside of their familiar peer groups. We wanted them to address the question of what happens when a community they build comes under a strain.” 

Constituents included civil service workers, retail workers, engineers, and more, and students spoke on behalf of and advocated for their groups’ particular needs. Most importantly, they had to build consensus around important decisions that would impact the resiliency of the imagined city. “We hope students come away with an understanding of what it takes to achieve a consensus, particularly when faced with a diverse set of needs and competing priorities,” said Bennett. 

The foundations laid will continue to permeate into the classroom curriculums at 91st. “Their projects involved significant group work,” said Romary. “I hope the students are able to translate the practice they had talking and finding consensus into future group work they do.”

“The residency felt residential,” said Kraft, noting how homey 412 can feel. Grade 5 students scaled up recipes in the teaching kitchen, baking scones to share with the community at 91st Street. Rackets in hand, they honed their squash skills on 412’s state-of-the-art courts with Director of Spence Squash Ben Oliner and his team of coaches. Through these various programmatic opportunities, Grade 5 was able to settle into the residency. “Students made it a home,” said Kraft. “They really bonded with the space.”