A class of 24 pupils in California, USA are making the most of an educational resource developed more than 5,000 miles away – in Wales!
The My Square Mile project was developed as a classroom tool for primary schools in Wales by the Design Commission for Wales, as a way to help children to explore their local area, taking a design-led look at their buildings, places and spaces.
However, such is its appeal that it has been adopted by a school in California, who have embraced the My Square Mile project and are now rolling it out with their pupils.
Primary school teacher, Mary Jimenez, (48), who teaches at Paloma Elementary School in Temecula, California, discovered the My Square Project when it was shown to her by her friend, artist Reshma Solbach.
She immediately emailed the Design Commission for Wales asking to be allowed to use the material. They sent her several copies of the book and CD resource and they’ve kept in touch, sharing updates on the project as Mary uses it with her school pupils, and writes about their progress on her blog.
Mary Jimenez said: “When I saw the My Square Mile project I just fell in love with the concept and simply knew I had to use it with my Second and Third Grade pupils, who are all aged 7-9 years old. I planned how I was going to approach it throughout the summer holidays and got going as soon as term started.
“I wrote to the Design Commission for Wales asking them to send me the toolkit and CD, and they kindly provided several copies. It was amazing showing this to my pupils and seeing them “oooh” and “aaah” over the Welsh buildings shown on the disc. They simply loved being transported to a beautiful place far away.
“The next step for us is to do a walking field trip around the perimeter of Paloma’s neighbourhood, stopping along the way to sketch as we go. I’m really excited by it - the tool kit has really helped to rejuvenate my year!”
My Square Mile was first piloted with 33 primary schools in Swansea in 2005. Since then, it has been rolled out to all areas of Wales, involving designer and artist placements in schools along with visits from local architects. It encourages pupils to explore the immediate area or ‘square mile’ around their schools, taking a look at the buildings, spaces, landscapes that make them up and exploring their responses to them within a design framework.
Carole-Anne Davies, chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales, said: “The local environment is a valuable education resource and, what’s more, it’s free, constantly available and easily accessible! It offers infinite possibilities for study covering numerous subjects across the curriculum including art, design and technology, ICT, geography, history, number and language.
“The My Square Mile project was developed to help young pupils to connect with their local environment, helping them to understand how it is shaped and managed, and assisting them to develop a sense of place. We know that the My Square Mile learning experience also helps children with the development of critical skills, confidence in presenting and talking about their work and it really helps them grasp complex ideas around what shapes our local environment.
“It has been hugely popular in Wales and we’ve had to produce more than we ever planned to make available. I am absolutely delighted that it has not only crossed borders but continents, and that it’s been so warmly embraced by our friends in the States is just great.
“The images of Welsh houses, streets and townscapes will be very different from those in Temecula, but the principles behind the project are the same. Moreover, it’s great to hear about the reaction of the Californian pupils on being shown an environment that contrasts with their own.”
The Design Commission for Wales is an independent body that champions high standards of design and architecture in the public and private sector in Wales. For more information, or to download a copy of My Square Mile, please visit the education page of dcfw.dev.