On Halloween Day 2015, I met with 22 students of SAM Academy, a charter school in Sanger, California, that has a focus on science, art, and music.
I made arrangements to visit SAM Academy in early October. When I arrived on October 31, the students were involved in setting up the school for a haunted house that evening.
I asked the students — primarily high school juniors and seniors — how they came up with the haunted house. They mentioned that they worked in groups and committees for the past three months, they did a floor plan that was revised several times, they developed a budget, and they had assigned tasks to do for the haunted house. As they spoke, I recorded their comments on poster board.
I remarked how their steps resemble planning: community outreach, developing ideas, setting goals, developing the plan, revising and updating the plan, and implementing the plan.
We rolled out a large aerial map of the City of Sanger on a table. I had the students gather around and describe the features that they saw. They noticed that Sanger is next to the Kings River, the streets are laid out in a grid, and there is a downtown area. They identified the major streets and the location of parks, the railroad that runs through town, and more.
At an APA Ambassador event at SAM Academy in Sanger, California, students draw their routes home from school on a city map. Photo by Keith Woodcock, AICP CEP.
I asked them, "How do you think Sanger's pattern got established?" We had a good discussion that included that streets seem to line up with the railroad; land owners bought and then divided the land, etc.
Next, I had the students locate their homes on the map and to mark up the map where replacements were needed for missing sidewalks and street lights and other items. Then I had them draw on the map the routes they take from home to school. We reflected on whether their routes crossed through those areas that needed improvements and how safe the routes are.
Then, we moved into how we can effect change in the neighborhoods to correct those problems.
Ideas included taking a survey of neighbors to see their opinions, petitions, talking to the city council, writing letters, and other ideas. Most of the students did not know the name of the council member who served their district. I drew a diagram of how the City of Sanger is organized and where planning falls on the organizational chart. We discussed local government and how students can become involved.
Finally, they listed what type of classes they thought they would need to take to become a planner: economics, business, communications, math, law, how a city runs, and others. They didn't say geography, but suggested studying how different uses are arranged.
They asked me about where I went to school (University of California, Davis, and Fresno State for my master's), and whether I like what I do (yes!).
In closing I mentioned that there are several universities in California that have a planning program. All they have to do is to Google it and to check out the APA website, www.planning.org, to learn more.
It was a fun time. They gave me a round of applause and invited me to see the haunted house they had planned.
Top image: SAM Academy students identifying key features of City of Sanger. Photo by Keith Woodcock, AICP CEP.
About the Author
Keith Woodcock, AICP CEP, is a city planner with the city of Sanger, California.