- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) - A group of third-graders from Southside Elementary School gripped the gate to Irwin Gardens and peered in at the immaculate grounds.

Most of them had driven past the 150-year-old mansion and former Irwin family home dozens of times with their parents, but few had stopped to take it in.

Without the school field trip, some might never have.

That is what happened to Erin Hawkins, director of marketing for the Columbus Area Visitors Center, who grew up in Columbus but didn’t explore the city’s architecture heritage until recently.

“As a resident, you’re going to be driving down the same streets that you drive every day and seeing the same building,” she told The Republic (https://bit.ly/1vP0cBA ). “But there are a lot of interesting facts and stories behind our buildings that a lot of people don’t know.”

Ethan Crough, executive director of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation, is determined to break that cycle - and he will start with every third-grader in the school district.

About 800 students will make the trip downtown this school year to embark on a walking architecture tour coordinated through the Visitors Center and explore the kidscommons children’s museum.

Crough calls the program “Young Designers,” as he hopes it will spark creativity among the city’s youth.

“Too often people grow up and leave, not realizing how special their community is until they come back,” Crough said. “But when you engage the community in itself, you end up with a much deeper sense of pride. The city’s heritage comes to life.”

For more than two years, Crough has been searching for the missing piece. He wanted to find a worthy project that Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. could not afford, but the school foundation could step up to help with.

When he learned that the district once paid for students to take a tour of downtown but later discontinued the field trip, the wheels in his head started turning. That trip was the missing piece.

So he took to the community to find support for the idea, even writing a sonnet to present at a local idea-sharing competition called Ignite Columbus.

Columbus was designed with intention/To grab an employee’s attention,” a part of the poem reads. “Yet our children grow up without knowing why/The unique spire points to the sky (because of a man called J.I.).”

The man called J.I. is J. Irwin Miller, the former Cummins leader who was instrumental in developing Columbus into a showcase for architecture.

Although Crough did not get Ignite Columbus funding for the Young Designers project, he did not give up.

He asked the Heritage Fund - The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County to help fund the project, and it worked.

The Heritage Fund agreed to provide $5,000 to pay for half of the cost for two years, with the school foundation paying for the other half.

Crough estimated the program will cost $5,000 per year when transportation and admission fees are factored in.

“The first year is to define the program, the second year is to refine the program,” Crough said. “The plan is for the school foundation to pick up the entire cost of the program for the long-term benefit of our community.”

Tracy Souza, president and CEO of the Heritage Fund, said the grants committee was enthusiastic about the proposal for several reasons. For one, the school foundation is a partner organization to the Heritage Fund and the committee wanted to recognize that.

“We felt like it’s part of our role in the community to explore the community, appreciate the community,” Souza said. “Having all the third-graders be able to do that in a consistent way is a good thing.”

The group of third-graders from Southside also gathered under the Large Arch on the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza and looked above at the sand-cast bronze creation.

“I want you, as you go on this tour, to look at how architects use simple shapes to make buildings interesting,” tour guide Wilna Braun told the students.

They learned about how First Christian Church looked pretty crazy when it was first built in 1942 as the first contemporary building in the city and one of the first contemporary churches in the U.S.

Architect Eliel Saarinen employed rectangular blocks and asymmetry to design the church and added a 166-foot boxy bell tower.

“They’re always excited. They always enjoy it,” said Sandy Watts, a third-grade teacher at Parkside Elementary School. “They’ll say, ‘Oh I go here or I go there.’ They have been to the locations, but they aren’t aware of the history. So they’re excited to see the buildings through a different viewpoint.”

Watts has been taking her students on the field trips for years because it fits in with subjects that she teaches, such as history and community and government.

As part of the Young Designers program, students also will have a chance to visit kidscommons for a hands-on architecture program. Students will discuss architecture and its role in Columbus, and then they’ll work in teams of four to design their own floor plan. They will talk about the strength of shapes and perform science experiments related to that.

Following the program, some classes will have time to explore the rest of the museum, including the City by Design exhibit, which allows visitors to design and create their ideal city as a builder, architect and urban planner.

“The more times they can encounter this information, the better,” said Liz Peterson-Damm, the museum’s education director. “It’s going to create a very meaningful experience for them.”

Crough hopes that experience will instill a pride of Columbus in the students and encourage them to contribute to the city.

“Leading creativity in our city is nothing new/But our program gives it a whole new view,” Crough’s poem ends. “It’s an idea the whole community can vest/It educates our children, the future, our best.”


Information from: The Republic, https://www.therepublic.com/

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