UrbanPlan Newsletter: Charting a New Path
Thank you for reading our inaugural ULI Nashville UrbanPlan newsletter!
January 12, 2023
With the support of a generous sponsorship underwriting from Smith Gee Studio, ULI Nashville hosted its first UrbanPlan workshop for Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) at Glencliff High School on October 4, 2022. As part of the school’s annual Experiential Learning Day, 60 students ranging from sophomores to seniors participated in the in-school, day-long development fundamentals exercise.
In addition to being ULI Nashville’s inaugural high school workshop, the event was unique in that it was the first in the global initiative’s 20 years-plus history to provide a Spanish version of the workshop curriculum.
With nearly 70% of Glencliff’s student population being of Hispanic descent and 53% of those being English-language learners, the need for language accommodations was a requirement that Glencliff’s Academy Coach, Thommye Kelley, set as a condition for the school’s participation in the program. “Upon being introduced to UrbanPlan, I was immediately intrigued by the concept and process. The potential benefit to our scholars was evident, but only if it would be possible for all my students to take part in the event could do so without language barriers. I was excited and impressed when I received confirmation that ULI was willing to translate the curriculum to make it accessible to all Glencliff students.”
As ULI Nashville Executive Director Jennifer Carlat noted, “It was important for us to meet Glencliff’s request – not just to ensure the school’s participation, but also because we recognize the opportunity to really move our goals of diversity and inclusion several steps forward by offering Spanish translations.”
Roughly a third of the students who participated on October 4 were Spanish-speaking only, creating yet another challenge in finding Spanish-speaking volunteers to support them throughout the workshop. ULI members and supporters sought out Spanish-speaking professionals put out an “All Spanish-speaking hands on deck!” call across Nashville’s development industry and aligned networks to assemble a group of bilingual volunteers. Olivia Ranseen of Metro Planning who also serves on the UrbanPlan steering committee, is fluent in Spanish and spent the day supporting the non-English speaking students. “It’s been a while since I’ve spoken that much Spanish. I was exhausted by the end of the day, but it was a very rewarding experience for me, and I was glad I could help with sharing UrbanPlan with students who ordinarily would’ve not been able to participate because of the language barrier.”
Beyond serving a large population of English-language learners, the staff and leadership team at Glencliff High face additional issues typical of a Title 1 school. With Math and ELA proficiency scores well below state average, engaging students in the curriculum while demonstrating the value of the lesson is a challenge. The UP curriculum is multi-layered and complex, but once students began working in teams to develop their plans for redevelopment of a fictional neighborhood, they were fully engaged and committed to the process. Volunteers expressed delight in witnessing students who at the beginning of the day were quiet and hesitant to participate just a few hours later having vigorous conversations about cap rates and the need to have “an outside social area for old people to have fun too.”
The Glencliff students’ engagement encouraged convinced Coach Kelley and the participating Glencliff teachers too, that they should host the workshop again. “One of my scholars who has struggled academically and behaviorally over the years came up to me the day after the workshop and said: ‘Ms. Kelley, that was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in school.’ That one testament coming from that specific young person really solidified for me the value of UrbanPlan. This program has the potential to affect the lives of young people in a real way.” With that, Glencliff High School committed to executing the 15-hour UrbanPlan curriculum in the Spring semester of 2023.
Kara Gee of Smith Gee Studio is an UrbanPlan steering committee member who served as one of nine mock City Council Members volunteers was “thrilled” by the outcome of the event. “I was super-surprised at how well the teens grasped the concepts in the little time they had, took a stance on how they would win the development rights, and tried to get all the metrics to work for the city and the public interest groups and their investors. And I was surprised to see how engaged they were in a full day session right up until the end.”
UrbanPlan clearly seeks to impact the lives of the participating students, but the Glencliff workshop also highlighted for ULI Nashville members the effect that volunteering in the program would have on them personally. Seth Crawford, a landscape architect with Hawkins Partners, Inc. and an UrbanPPlan steering committee member had an unexpected take-away of the day, stating: “I didn’t anticipate how invigorating the process would be for me. Something about having the students super-interested in my line of work was energizing and made me happy.”
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