Last week we were so excited to welcome Julia de Martini Day from Transportation Alternatives! We’ve been working with Julia over the past few months to develop a lesson that would be meaningful to our class of students. We wanted to structure the lesson to include many of the skills we’ve used so far: things like sketching, brainstorming, problem and solution definition, and refinement and presentation. That sounds like a lot of stuff to cram into one lesson, but our students are getting used to quickly thinking through ideas!
Julia began the lesson with a presentation about safe streets and what it means to engage in healthy living in an urban area. It was really interesting to see where each student stood in our “human barometer” test at the beginning. Most were in the middle between agreeing and disagreeing with the statement, “The best way to stay healthy is to walk and bike around my neighborhood.”
Julia did a wonderful job explaining the mission and goals of Transportation Alternatives to our students. She put activism in terms that were easy for them to understand, like describing protests: “Sometimes the people in charge don’t listen to us, so we get a lot of people together who can talk really loudly together!”
For the rest of class, we all looked at the intersection of Jay St. and Tillary St. near the students’ school. Many of them cross this dangerous intersection each morning to get to school. When Julia asked them to sit down and talk about the problems with the intersection they had no trouble coming up with a ton of ideas.
After each group defined a set of problems, they focused on one problem that they could attempt to solve. We asked them to come up with a quick solution and sketch it, either on the map we provided them, or on a separate sheet of paper.
At the end of class, each group presented their ideas. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap in the problems each group defined. It was really exciting for us to see how thorough they were in their definition of the problems in the space.
This was a tough week for us in class. Carmen and I are feeling the strains of our own course load increasing near the end of the semester, while also working with students who are feeling the pressures of their semesters coming to a climax. And, as much as we valued the lesson from Transportation Alternatives, it occurred to us after class that teenagers may have trouble grasping the value of the message “don’t drive, use alternatives instead.” They’re right at the age where they are dying to get a car and drive, and the idea of voluntarily not having one may have been lost on them!