As an arts educator who has worked with underserved students in Title 1 schools for the last five years, I witnessed major problems with the status quo of how we teach our students. The “sage on a stage” format of teaching does not help build critical skills and habits of mind, such as self-confidence, creativity, innovation, collaboration and problem solving, that we all need to thrive in the 21st century.
I set out to change that by piloting The Parkolation Project, a course in dreaming up, designing and building real parklets, with the Boston Green Academy (BGA), an under-resourced Boston Public Schools Charter High School in South Boston. I have spent the year working closely with 19 students with emotional and behavioral disabilities and their amazing Environmental Science and Food Justice teacher, Anna Golden, to not only re-imagine a better world but to make it visible, real and impactful, both for the students and for our environment.
This course in real world engagement will transform the urban landscape (thanks to your help!) while also transforming participants. For example, this year, a student who I'll call Dee, grew out of his shell through this project. Prior to Parkolation he was not excited about the format of school, did not know what he wanted to do after high school and had a fatalistic attitude towards climate change. He also rarely spoke in group situations and disliked sharing his ideas. Through this project he learned that he has something to say and that his ideas can change the world. He realized that he has a strong sense of aesthetics and loves symmetry and symbolism. In fact, he loves it so much that he wants to go to design school when he graduates; he will be well prepared because he now loves presenting his ideas for critique and discussion!
Since BGA students do not have the opportunities of their more privileged peers in other districts, we tried to expose them to institutions, career options and successful professionals through the Parkolation Project. Students got the chance to learn about about clean technology and entrepreneurship from MIT Sloan graduates who started their own venture, Sistine Solar. Students have walked in the shoes of students at Boston Architectural College to learn what it's like to be in college and develop relationships with mentors who are similarly committed to building a better future through design. We also partnered with the City of Boston, who provided feedback on students’ designs and are eager to see our grassroots collaboration with Boston Public Schools continue in the future.
If we are successful in raising our STRETCH GOAL of $50,000, we will share everything we have learned this year by producing "PARK here: Kids Build the City", an online curriculum, taught in edX-style modules that gives k-12 students and their teachers the tools to not only re-imagine their cities but to actually change them for the better by designing and building parklets and other small green spaces.
Imagine if kids of all ages, in cities around the world, could have access to these transformational educational experiences! They would learn about authentic urban renewal, civic engagement, sustainable technology and the design thinking process. Most importantly, they would KNOW that they CAN make a difference in their cities. Let's help young people create a healthier future, and in so doing improve our education system!
Wilhelmina Peragine and The Parkolation Team
P.S. While we're designing this course with K-12 students in mind, we hope it spreads to people of all ages who want to make a difference in their community. The potential is endless!
Your contribution to the Parkolation project via KickStarter is tax deductible as VSA Massachusetts is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
What Is the Parkolation Project?
The Parkolation Project is an educational program that gives young people the opportunity to envision and create a better future. How? By imagining, designing and building small innovative mini-parks called parklets.
Parklets are an established part of the urban environment in San Francisco, New York and Montreal, where they provide public space, benefit local businesses and bring beauty back to the urban core. This move toward healthier urban spaces has been led by landscape architects and municipal governments but we want to add the voice, perspective and vision of young people right here in Boston.
- "As an arts educator, when I learned about the parklets movement I thought - wait a minute - what if young people could design these new and innovative spaces? What if we put students in charge of working together to re-imagine and re-envision how we use our public street space?" - Wilhelmina Peragine, VSA MA Teaching Artist, Parkolation Founder and Director
Why do we need your help?
Since the Fall of 2013, high school students at Boston Green Academy have been brainstorming, modeling and prototyping parklet designs. Now student designers are ready with a final parklet design that allows Bostonians to enjoy a meal in the fresh air, park their bikes, indulge in live greenery and even charge their phones with the sun. But we need your contribution to build it!
Why is this project important?
This project inspires students' curiosity and learning about geometry, technology, sustainability, civics, design, working through failure, problem solving and their own abilities as designers and artists.
- "Because of this project I want to study design in college. I love making spaces that are useful and creative." - 10th grade student designer
- "My students have been totally engaged because this project links learning to the real world in an authentic way." - Anna Golden, Environmental Science and Special Education Teacher
Student designers have also learned to collaborate with professionals from Boston Architectural College and a landscape architect at Copley Wolff Design Group to hone their design, create professional renderings and devise a plan for fabrication.
Intrigued by green technologies, student designers are also thrilled to be partnering with Sistine Solar, a local startup out of MIT, whose beautiful and functional solar tiles will allow visitors to sit in our parklet and charge their phone using energy from the sun.
- "To make sustainability sustainable, you need to inspire and create the next generation of green innovators. The Parkolation Project is a perfect example of that". - Senthil Balasubramanian, Sistine Solar
How far will we take this?
Should we reach our goal of $12,500 to build our student-designed parklet, we will have a stretch goal of $50,000 that will go towards building an open source kit and curriculum to provide you the blueprints to build and customize public spaces near you with your students, friends, neighbors or colleagues.
The climate is changing, in education and on our planet, and we believe that we will need new ways of teaching, learning and living. We hope to spread the concepts and benefits of this project to as many schools and communities as possible.
- "This Artful approach to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) embodies everything we believe in as educators and prepares students with relevant and engaging learning experiences." - Wilhelmina Peragine, VSA MA Teaching Artist, Parkolation Founder and Director
- "The Parklet will be a great gift to the city and neighborhood, given by its citizens young and old. Its also evidence that learning by making really works for all students and can produce amazing results." - Charles Washburn, Executive Director, VSA Massachusetts
What else are people saying about the Parkolation Project?
Who are we?
Parkolation is a project of VSA Massachusetts and is run by Teaching Artist, Wilhelmina Peragine, who works with high school students at Boston Green Academy and their Environmental Science and Special Education teacher, Anna Golden. We have collaborated with the Gateway Initiative at Boston Architectural College to connect the high school students with architecture students and Copley Wolff Landscape Architect, Cortney Kirk. We are also partnering with Sistine Solar, the City of Boston, Mei Mei Restaurant and volunteers from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Harvard Graduate School of Education. We also have generous support from the Boston Foundation, Boston Foundation for Architecture and many individual donors who participated in our Park(ing) Day Fundraiser last fall.
Images of (Some) Rewards
Beverages from Mei Mei Restaurant
Solar Coasters - (cell color subject to availability)
Double Awesome Lunch at Mei Mei
Risks and challenges
The process of building something in public space is inherently complex because there are many players with different needs and wants. We have been working all year to get our parklet built and to do so in an authentic and sustainable way. We have approval from the Boston Transportation Department, The Audubon Circle Neighborhood Association, Boston University and the Public Improvement Commission.
If we encounter construction or installation issues we will rely on our network of architecture and permitting experts, all of whom are familiar with navigating setbacks from a design perspective.
While we hope that the parklet will continue to be installed in this same location for years and years, it is possible that the community will only want to host the parklet for one year. If this happens, Boston Green Academy will work with the City of Boston to find a new location for the parklet, in a neighborhood where the community is excited about trying out this new concept.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)