Twelve rising sophomore and junior girls representing several area schools are spending three weeks of summer vacation thinking about how to improve the city.
They are part of a free three-week interdisciplinary course called Placemaking: Chattanooga as Text, which is sponsored by Girls Preparatory School. The course is an extension of Mad, Bad & Dangerous, the entrepreneurial program that GPS hosts with The Company Lab and Public Education Foundation.
“Placemaking … is the idea of investing in local places and thinking about human-centered design,” said one of the course’s leaders, Dr. Andrea Becksvoort, GPS history department employee and dean of the sophomore class. “It’s empowering people to make communities their own.”
The students have been working in teams to examine a local problem or opportunity within the context of Chattanooga’s geologic, social and historical setting.
Several girls said the experience has been empowering.
“It’s really fun to go around and figure out what problems you’re passionate about and figuring out how you can solve those problems, because typically we think that since we’re kids, we can’t really do anything to solve our problems in the world,” said participant Audra Carver, who is a rising junior at the Center for Creative Arts.
Becksvoort educated them about the area’s past, such as Cherokee history, and GPS science teacher and course leader Sonya Steele taught the science components, such as the geology of the region.
The students have traveled to parts of the area they’ve never experienced before; they’ve learned important professional soft skills and connected with business and community leaders; they’ve worked on brainstorming and empathy development.
Now, as the course comes to an end, they are using all they’ve learned, including geographic information systems, readings, discussion topics, design thinking and social entrepreneurship methods, to create a pitch for local stakeholders on how to solve a problem or improve the city.
On Friday, they will pitch in teams of four to area stakeholders.
Organizers wanted to attract a diverse group of students, so PEF officials distributed applications to area public schools. Leaders accepted four GPS students, along with girls from Hamilton County schools.
Students in the course will receive one general elective credit from GPS with the possibility of elective credit for science, history or other applicable subject recognized by their individual school’s curriculum.
“We are trying to change the stereotype of who GPS is, who we serve and what our mission is,” GPS college counselor Claudia Goldbach, who managed the course, said.
GPS was founded as an educational facility, not a finishing school, she said. Leaders value diversity and want to continue to work to become better community stewards, they said.
“GPS sees itself as a leader in making our community better for women and girls, and that means not just working for the girls that attend our school,” Steele said.
Several of the students said they have enjoyed making new friends through the course.
Upcoming Brainerd High School 11th-grader Deliyah Ledford said she might not have believed it if someone told her a month ago that she’d be spending part of her summer with 11 “random girls,” but she’s glad she is.
“I think it’s cool how we all come from different backgrounds,” she said.