Students Get Real-World Experience in City Planning


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For most students, the best way to learn is by doing. No matter how effective their teacher is, certain students need hands-on learning in order for them to make a connection between what they are learning in their textbooks and the way the real world works. Enter: Junior Achievement.

Jennifer Hatchett, director of marketing for Junior Achievement of Greater Birmingham, shared a story that illustrates a creative way one JA volunteer brought learning to life for an elementary school class. Recently, third-grade students at University Place Elementary School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., met with John McConnell, the city planner. Through their meeting at Tuscaloosa City Hall, the students experienced first-hand what it means to plan and build a city. This encounter was the perfect way to end the JA Our City program. The students' JA volunteer, Renwick Jones from Stillman College, arranged for the visit where each student spoke with McConnell and was issued building permits for his or her project. The goal of the project was for the students to work together and create a city of their own.

The visit proved especially poignant since University Place Elementary, along with large portions of Tuscaloosa, was severely damaged in the April 27, 2011, tornado. Amidst the rebuilding of the city and of their school, Jones hoped the Junior Achievement lessons on city planning would help the students understand what is happening around them and why there are so many factors and opportunities to consider in creating successful cities.

"Coach Nick Saban (the head coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team) started looking at game film when he was 13-years-old and we see the results of that experience," Jones said. "These students have energetic and creative minds and it is my hope that this hands-on experience will entice them into thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. Some might want to become a mayor, entrepreneur, city planner, or a football coach, which means they will make great contributions to society when they become young adults."

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