When Wildcats head off campus, their eyes are opened to new relationships and cultures. But the physical spaces they explore can be just as important. Whether students are designing a treehouse, building a home, or observing how public art takes a city from good to great, they’re inspired when they interact with the physical world in Atlanta and beyond.
Wildcats aren’t just learning in different spaces. They’re learning from them.
The Hub @ the High—located underneath the High Museum of Art across from MARTA’s Arts Center Station in bustling midtown Atlanta—is a new space hatched from a collaboration between Westminster administrators and High Museum executives. “We met with Westminster to talk about a partnership and what we could do with a classroom with no walls that’s connected to the community and to the world,” says Virginia Shearer, the museum’s education director. Since the space was conceptualized, students and teachers have brainstormed the design and use of the room with the High’s other partner schools. Providing the flexibility of space and schedule for Wildcats to cultivate new ideas, the High has high hopes the Hub will “function to tackle big projects, discover new solutions, and foster radical collaboration between faculty, students, and museum partners,” Virginia says. Since January, classes like the Musical Theater History JanTerm course and groups of faculty and staff have utilized the space to unlock new learning opportunities.
What unlocks innovation is understanding things as creative platforms. Time works that way, and space can work that way—together they can unlock incredible things.
Jim Justice, Dean of Academics and Curriculum
For nearly three decades, Westminster students have constructed homes across Atlanta through Habitat for Humanity. The project is a schoolwide effort—every student from pre-first through 12th grade is involved in fundraising for the construction. While building, Wildcats connect with students from other metro Atlanta schools, volunteers, laborers, and the homeowners themselves. “There is a lot of conversation from students that you may not hear in the halls,” says Upper School Director of Civic Engagement, Meghan James. “Their eyes are open to the world around them, and they’re open to living in others’ experiences. It’s interesting to see students find commonalities between themselves and others, and sometimes that makes up for the differences between us.” In November 2018, students helped hand over a house to a new homeowner for the 27th time. “It was awesome to actually hear from the homeowner. When she brought her family up and talked to us, I realized how much everything we did meant and I felt like I made a nice contribution,” says Will DeWalt ’20.
I think the purpose of Westminster participating in Habitat is to get involved in our community—not only to build a good reputation for ourselves but to really have a positive impact on our city.
Will DeWalt ’20
In the “Innovation Space: Campuses and Communities” JanTerm course, students took it upon themselves to cultivate creative solutions for unused spaces. “At its core, the class focused on how space affects a community and the types of activities that can affect a space,” says Visual Arts Department Chair Ben Steele, who worked alongside math teacher Robin-Lynn Clemmons and English teacher Dr. Stephen Addcox to challenge students to offer innovative proposals for how Westminster and other communities could use space more effectively. Students traveled to New York City to learn how Ennead Architects designs and transforms buildings to match the needs of schools, businesses, and communities worldwide. Using virtual reality software for their final project, students reimagined the basement of Askew Hall with plans that included quiet study pods, a recreation room, and common gathering areas.
Working with the architects at Ennead in New York City taught me that design is fluid. The free-flowing nature of the design process showed me that it’s okay to start out with an extremely vague idea because you are often surrounded by peers who can expand upon the simplest of ideas to make them complex and beautiful.
Ansley McNeel ’19
Third graders might not travel internationally, but they spend several weeks in the classroom learning all about Guatemala through a special social studies unit. They expand their learning in Design Thinking, where the students see a model of a typical 400-squarefoot Guatemalan home and are asked to design the interior to fit an entire family. “The students build props to answer the question, ‘How can we maximize space for a Guatemalan family living in a small home?’” says Sue Davenport, Lower School Design Thinking teacher. The class travels to SCADpads in midtown Atlanta to see how Savannah College of Art and Design students transformed three parking spots into homes—each measuring only 135 square feet. The students see designs that maximize both form and function—drawers built into stairs, lofted sleeping areas, and dishware hanging by magnets on the wall—and use those observations to shape their understanding of a small space and Guatemalan homes.
A field trip to see tiny homes helps students to understand the question, ‘What do you need to live?’ They start to grasp the concept of a pretty small space and how to maximize living in that space.
Sue Davenport, Lower School Design Thinking teacher
Students continue to make their mark on the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood as construction on their multi-year treehouse project nears completion. Middle School Art & Architecture students designed and have begun constructing a venue for Truly Living Well to educate visitors about sustainability. Since its inception three years ago, the treehouse project has provided students with an opportunity to work with and serve a local institution. “That’s the great thing about this course—there is a real client with a real need,” says Tim Shabanowitz, director of the Middle School Innovation Space. “Students have to stay engaged and appease the client and find creative solutions to problems.” Though the design and construction of a treehouse was the main objective, the partnership between Westminster and Truly Living Well has opened students to a new community in Atlanta. “I didn’t realize how much Truly Living Well and this space could bring a community together,” says Caroline Dickey ’22. “It educates the community in natural urban agriculture, but that’s more than just growing fruits and vegetables. They invite people to come together and make the world a better place for us and the community.”
When Truly Living Well said they wanted a living space for learning and fun, I didn’t really know what they meant by learning. I thought maybe teaching about different plants or animals, but really it’s about educating you about your food choices, your community, and yourself.
Caroline Dickey ’22
For nearly a decade, juniors and seniors have gathered throughout the school year to build community through creativity. The Creating Community cohort learns about and engages with public spaces to discover “how they’re intentionally designed to bring people together with the goal of creating a sense of community. They see how it works and also hasn’t worked in some instances,” says Daniel Searl, who co-leads the group with fellow Upper School faculty members Sabrina Johnson and Ben Steele. Students travel to both local art installations and international events to witness how art transforms a city and draws people together with the hopes of bringing that creative spirit to Westminster. Recently, the group sought inspiration by participating in the Atlanta BeltLine’s lantern parade and traveling to outdoor art events like EXPO in Chicago, Nuit Blanche into Toronto, and Art Basel in Miami to see firsthand how those cities’ streets, plazas, and building facades are reimagined with artwork that brings people together.
Visiting these community events shows us artwork imposed on a space. It’s an experience where you gain an appreciation for different audiences, arts, and communities that come together.
Ben Steele, Visual Arts Department Chair
On the surface, the twice-yearly Westminster trips to Guatemala allow Upper School students to construct homes for families living in poverty and practice conversational Spanish. But ask anyone who’s traveled with one of the contingents, and they’ll tell you the trip is so much more than that. “With Guatemala, we have the opportunity to build a new home, but really, it’s the kickstarter to bringing Westminster students, From Houses to Homes workers, and the family together,” says Daniel Searl, Upper School faculty member and Guatemala Global Education director. “It goes from being about the bricks and mortar to being all about the people and the relationship with one another.” In addition to building homes, students and teachers join Guatemalan children at school and on the soccer field, building relationships directly with the families. “We all become one family and we love that,” says Judy Baker, executive director of From Houses to Homes, Westminster’s partner in Guatemala for constructing homes. “It fosters the emotional connection that is much more fulfilling than just providing a home for someone.”
Visiting a country such as Guatemala allowed me to see that while we often focus on the most material aspects of a house, we forget that without a family, there is no home. Our Guatemalan family helped out as much as they could and taught us what it meant to work hard for the ones you love.
Collier Ballard ’19