The Power of Community Learning

“The school must be a genuine form of active community life, instead of a place set apart in which to learn lessons.” ~John Dewey
Here at Parker, we believe that our school and community is one unit, and partnerships within our community are essential to helping children reach their maximum potential. As a school, we work hard to unite our students with outside community members, organizations, and parents. This allows us to build a connected school community that promotes inclusion and enhances learning outcomes. In partnering with outside experts in their field, we ensure that the diverse set of knowledge and skills present in our community will be seen and valued. We also show our students that everyone has a role to play in learning, solving problems and contributing to our school community. By being connected, we increase learning opportunities and share responsibility in working together towards our learning goals.
One shining example of the powerful outcomes community partnerships can bring is playing out in our 3-4 class this year. Over the past fall and early winter, our 3-4 artists and scientists partnered with Parker parent Jesse Hoffman to work on separate projects specific to each class. The results were two uniquely signature and enthusiastically engaging hands-on learning experiences that made indelible impressions on our young students.
Jesse’s work with our 3-4 art students began this fall when he partnered with Parker art teacher Claire Sherwood to help make her longtime dream of creating natural dyes a reality. As Claire explains, “Ever since I started at Parker, I’ve been inspired by our property and invested in figuring out how we can wrap art making into the natural resources we have here on our grounds. My first year, we did an Andy Goldsworth inspired “Art in Nature” project that led us to searching for clay deposits and examining plants. Since then, I have been thinking about how to use these raw materials to create pigments for use in class.” Claire goes on to explain that she met Jesse at Parker’s Day in the Life of the Hudson event earlier this year. “Jesse was there as a parent volunteer, and he sat in on my art lesson. We started talking about his job as a plant scientist and his interest in art, which led to a conversation on his experiments with natural ink making. When I heard that, I immediately invited him to Parker.”
Soon thereafter, Jesse joined our 3-4 artists during class and led them on a nature hike where they identified and gathered plants they could use to make natural inks. Together, they spent a beautiful afternoon collecting wild grapes, buckthorn berries and acorn caps. The kids learned which species were native, and which were invasive. They also learned about how invasive plants can actually be used for positive purposes like creating beautiful inks. Once back in the classroom, our 3-4 artists worked with Claire to crush, mash, pulverize, strain, and boil their gathered goodies to create homegrown Parker hues.
In the weeks since then, our 3-4 artists have used their homemade inks to experiment with how they work as a medium. They created scientific illustrations using their dyes to illuminate the plants from which they came. Currently, the class is using their remaining ink to tie-dye canvas bags, which they will then embroider with their own designs. Through it all, the 3-4s have enjoyed experimenting with the added “magical” science of adjusting the pH level of the dyes through various means and observing how the colors change from their natural states.
Jesse reflects on his work with the 3-4s saying, “ I love the idea that the students are able to use materials that they gathered themselves from their campus to create art. We tend to buy art supplies rather than make them. When you are able to make something useful and beautiful from materials you’ve gathered it is just so exciting!”
Meanwhile, down in our Discovery Center, our lower school science teacher Leaina Hawkins was brewing up another opportunity for community connection to culminate a unit on properties of matter with her 3-4 scientists. As Leiana explains, “I always try to look for an exciting way to end a unit. I want my students to see that once they put in the work to understand the knowledge, that’s when the fun comes. Together as a class, we decided to make rock candy and sponge candy, and I emailed my students’ parents to fill them in on what was happening in class. Jesse responded to my email and asked if he could also come in and do a liquid nitrogen demonstration for the class. Of course I said YES! It was literally the most exciting way we could end our unit.”
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Jesse adds, “When I heard the 3-4s were doing a unit on phases of matter, the idea of introducing them to liquid nitrogen came right to mind. When I was in 4th grade, I saw a demonstration of various spectacular scientific experiments (including liquid nitrogen experiments), and that demo was truly one of the things that led me towards a lifetime interest in and love of science.”
*Click on photo to view video
Just before winter break, Jesse passed on that love of science when he visited the 3-4 science class and brought along 5 liters of liquid nitrogen (at -320 degrees F!). Together, the class made cloud explosions with hot water, froze roses and crushed them, froze bouncy balls to see how their properties changed, smashed a frozen lemon, watched the nitrogen boil and evaporate on the floor, froze graham crackers and ate them, and created a bubble explosion. Our 3-4’s conducted themselves with the restraint and maturity of seasoned scientists while also teeming with the shrieks and giggles of elated knowledge seekers.
*Click on photo to view video
Experiences like these with invested community members like Jesse elevate our school and community. In offering one final bit of personal wisdom, Leiana managed to reflect our universal school philosophy in saying, “One of the things I always try to do as a teacher is to never sound like the authority on anything. The best way to do that is to show that someone else has knowledge to share. Usually, during lessons, the children bring in knowledge and they share that. But any time I can bring in another adult where I can also learn from what they are doing, that models for the kids that science is not a point that you reach and then you are done. You can continue to grow and learn from other people for the rest of your life.”
*Click on photo to view video
*Robert C. Parker School follows NYS guidelines and protocols for school safety during Covid.