BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A total of 44 students from three Bridgeport schools recently visited Westport Library as part of their ongoing participation in a Peer Docent Program offered by the Housatonic Museum of Art.
The students arrived from Geraldine W. Johnson School, Hall School and John Winthrop School in Bridgeport.
During the field trip, award-winning architect Thom Mayne presented the students with examples of architecture, then they let their imaginations fly, designing their own versions of the Westport Library on graph paper.
"Architecture doesn’t start with a drawing, it starts with an idea,” said Mayne, who is a part of the Turnaround Arts Program led by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “The idea becomes the drawing, which becomes the manifestation.”
Deborah White, the Westport Library’s Children’s Librarian, shared plans for the library’s redesign. The students, ages 11 to 13, were encouraged to think about why books are put in one place called the library, and how that building is used. Their drawings reflected that thinking.
“There is a café on the bottom with windows, and all the books are on top,” said 13-year-old Sheyla Flores explaining her drawing. “I put glass on the top so from far away you can see the books. See here, they’re cracked up windows. I like how cracks look.”
“This over here is a big circle, a big window,” said Brian Jerez, like Flores, an eighth-grader at Geraldine W. Johnson School. “This will make the library look more modern.”
Each year, Bridgeport schools are waitlisted for the HMA Peer Docent Program, which receives a 300 percent interest rate beyond its capacity, according to a press release.
The program trains students in nine weeks to be docents and lead their classmates on tours of Downtown Bridgeport. A scaffolding design is used where the trained seventh-graders become eighth-graders mentors the following year, the release said.
Additionally, many of the students who were not part of the training but were led by their peers on tours become the docents themselves in subsequent years.
Janet Zamparo, Curator of Education for the Housatonic Museum of Art Peer Docent Program, shared details on what makes this type of instruction so successful.
“The program builds on their skills, engaging students through questions. The process builds leadership and note-taking skills as well as public-speaking abilities," said Zamparo. "The teaching focuses on art and architecture, but it connects to other subjects like math and history. We’re fostering a sense of civic pride with, for the past four years, the Program’s focus on architecture in Downtown Bridgeport."
To learn more about the Housatonic Museum of Art’s Peer Docent Program, or to make a donation, visit www.HousatonicMuseum.org or contact HMA Executive Director, Robbin Zella at 203-332-5052.