top: NEA Chairman Jane Chu and Council member Ranee Ramaswamy examine 2nd-grade students' models above: Anna Sanko explains the workshop process of creating models

top: NEA Chairman Jane Chu and Council member Ranee Ramaswamy examine 2nd-grade students' models

above: Anna Sanko explains the workshop process of creating models

Executive Director Anna Sanko speaks to National Council on the Arts at the invitation of NEA Chairman Jane Chu

The Architecture Resource Center’s STEM-linked, in-class workshops that engage every student were presented in March 2017 to the National Council on the Arts by invitation of Jane Chu, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts. These workshops are currently underway in New Haven K-8 public schools.

In addition to the presentation, Ms Chu requested that we provide an activity for Council participation like the one she observed on her 2015 visit to New Haven.

Anna Sanko, ARC Founder and Executive Director, presented a brief history of the organization to the Council, emphasizing how the participation of hundreds of volunteer architects in the early years helped establish the ARC’s credibility in both the education and design communities. That credibility also extended to funders like the NEA, state, city, and community foundations who have been consistent supporters.

The Architecture Resource Center (ARC) has worked in schools throughout Connecticut, and consistently with New Haven schools since its beginning in 1991, to provide curriculum-linked, standards-based, design-education programs. The original program, Design Connections (DC) included architect-led walking tours of New Haven that presented opportunities for students to connect with the city’s history, its people, its variety of buildings, their uses, and how the city was planned and developed. Our social studies textbook, New Haven's Cultural Landscape, evolved from these tours and is still part of the city’s 5th-grade curriculum. 

In 2015, Ms. Chu visited only two, NEA-funded programs in CT. She attended a session of Ms. Sanko’s third-grade workshop, My Room, where students were learning how to design a new room for themselves and use their math and art skills to research, measure, calculate, draw, and construct a bedroom model to scale. 

By starting with what they know – their environment – students have a tangible way to connect STEM-subject abstracts to real life. They also learn how important imagination and creativity are in defining and solving real-world problems.

One of the most important differences between ARC and nearly every other design education program in the country is that our workshops are for every student, include professional development for teachers, and are presented in the classroom as part of everyday learning. 

Current programs reinforce ARC’s philosophy – when students understand their environment, that everything in the world is designed, and that nothing gets done without collaboration, presentation, and approval, they are also learning important life lessons about how the world works. 

Our vision is that each student will have a heightened appreciation of how architecture and design relate to the world around them and be empowered with 21st-century skills and a design-thinking framework they can apply to every aspect of learning and life.

Call it design-thinking, creative problem-solving, or any other term-du-jour, this fundamental approach is what drives innovation in every industry, government, and garage around the world. And, it will be the most important skill for students to bring to their future careers in jobs that don't exist yet.