On Friday, April 16th, forty five eighth-graders from the Lawrence Family Development Charter School teamed up with MIT@Lawrence practicum students and instructors to talk about the challenges and opportunities that alleyways pose in the city of Lawrence.
Polina Bakhteiarov (pictured left), an MIT undergraduate studying City Planning and Civil Engineering, facilitated the group discussions. She began by asking: How many alleyways do you they think there are in Lawrence? Young Lawrencians offered answers ranging from fifteen to 1,000. (There are seventy eight.) As the title of the practicum implies – Assets, Information, and the Immigrant City – having access to good, accurate information is and will be an important part of the Lawrence’s revitalization.
Students then launched into a discussion of methods for real-world problem solving. Polina asked Lawrence students what they might do to understand and solve the alleyway problem. She then explained some of the qualitative and quantitative methods that practicum students have applied so far. “Engaging the students not only allowed us to uncover their perceptions of – and ideas for – the alleyways in Lawrence,” she reflects, “but it also allowed us to empower them to take stock of their own physical environment. I think that the students became more aware of public space issues and began to figure out the differences between quantitative and qualitative research.”
Students then split into small group to take turns interviewing each other about the alleyways. Using flip cameras they asked each other questions about dumping and graffiti in alleyways and also about the positive uses of alleyways – like providing shortcuts home from school. Students in one group noted that the many of city’s homeless residents use the alleyways as space to sit and sleep and expressed concerns about displacing homeless people. Students in another group questioned whether residents would help clean the alleyways if Mayor Lantigua asked them to. “I’ll do it!” one particular student volunteered.
Gayle Christiansen, a graduate student studying City Planning, who runs the Lawrence@MIT program and oversaw the Lawrence students’ visit to MIT that day, explained, “I think the students really enjoyed expressing themselves over the flip cameras. I think it was also valuable for them to practice problem solving skills and critical thinking. Then there was the added bonus that we were talking about their hometown, which is something they are already experts in. I also think it was important for them to see students in college and graduate school working on real issues out in the world. The university isn’t just about problem sets and readings.”
Post by Marianna Leavy-Sperounis and Lorlene Hoyt.