University Circle immerses Circle Scholars in arts and culture
CMSD NEWS BUREAU
Growing up in Cleveland means being surrounded by museums and cultural institutions that rival the best in the nation.
Some Mary McLeod Bethune School students are getting special access to these renowned institutions thanks to University Circle, Inc., the nonprofit development organization for a neighborhood that serves as the city’s hub for health care, education and arts and culture.
UCI launched the Circle Scholars program this year as an after-school program for a cohort of seventh- and eighth-graders who are chosen through an application process. The students will visit the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland Botanical Garden and Cleveland History Center, going four times to each, and spend time with educators who lead community-focused lessons.
The experience is much more than a field trip, with programming aimed at helping students discover new things about their city and feel that they have a meaningful role in its success.
Greg Deegan is the director of community education for UCI. He and UCI education specialist Arin Miller-Tait accompany the students on each visit, along with a teacher.
“There’s a sense that neighbors of the Circle don’t feel like the Circle is a neighborly place or that they can take advantage of what’s here, so this is about connecting the school with these institutions and helping students look at their community through a bunch of different lenses," Deegan said
During weekly trips over the next 16 weeks, the Circle Scholars will take a progressively deeper look at the role of each institution. Week one was about introduction and observation. The second visit involves organizing what they see in ways that make sense to them. The third time will focus on reflection and deep thinking. The final visit will center on synthesis and help inform a project that the Circle Scholars will present to their entire school.
The initial Circle Scholars trip to each institution was, for most students, their first visit ever.
“Our school is just a few blocks away, but many of them don’t even know that these places exist,” said Lianna Madigan, a Mary McLeod Bethune teacher who serves as the chaperone and advisor.
That was the case for one student, Shylah. She and her classmates expressied admiration as they walked through the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse, an indoor garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden that is bursting with plants and animals found in the spiny desert of Madagascar and the butterfly-filled rainforest of Costa Rica.
“It was so realistic, and it’s amazing that instead of traveling across the world, you can see it right here,” Shylah said.
The educator at the gardens led discussions about plants that grow in Ohio and encouraged the students to take care of their own community to preserve its beauty.
“I’m learning a lot more about what’s around me and actually getting to see it,” Shylah said.
At the Cleveland Museum of Art, students spent time in an exhibit of art inspired by home and community. They sat down in the wide, open atrium and sketched out representations of their own neighborhoods: people, parks, churches and stores.
They were also given an assignment: Use the iPods provided by the school to take photos of aspects of their neighborhood that are important to them.
At the Cleveland History Center, the group explored the Cleveland Starts Here exhibit, a new installment that presents a detailed history of the city from the 1790s to today.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural history treated them to a personal tour of the museum that included behind-the-scenes areas where the students met museum scientists and observed them as they worked to classify specimens and preserve fossils.
University Circle, Inc. has a long history of bringing arts and culture education to CMSD. While this is the first year that the Circle Scholars are going on 16 site visits, the program existed last year with educators bringing lessons to Mary McLeod Bethune classrooms. A grant from Home Savings Bank made it possible to take the program to the next level.
Deegan estimates that approximately 250,000 CMSD students have been impacted by other education programs, including Linking Education and Discovery (LEAD), UCI’s flagship community education program has been providing K-8 CMSD students with learning experiences at University Circle institutions for over 40 years.
As the Circle, known as Cleveland’s “second downtown,” continues to grow and develop, programs like the Circle Scholars are ensuring that Cleveland’s children, more than half of whom live in poverty, are sharing in the excitement and prosperity.
“We want the students to feel that University Circle is their community, that they’re our neighbors and we’re their neighbors and we’re all in this together,” Deegan said.
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