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Why City Study?

Adapted from “City Study: A Reboot,” written by Justin Hajj for The LP’s LampPost Magazine

Without question, The Learning Project has benefited greatly from its location. Our central locale in Boston has influenced the development of our program, our character, and our values. Near public transportation and in the heart of the city, LP students have, for decades, engaged with the city in a multitude of ways. They travel by T to and from field trips; they visit a wide variety of museums; they call one of the largest and most historically significant libraries in America “my library”; they play sports and games along the Esplanade and at the Boston Common; they engage in demonstration rallies and even sing for Bostonians on Copley Square or in front of the state House as part of their Mayfest celebration each year. Daily, students enjoy recess at the Clarendon Street Playground, another city resource. Truly, the lives and education of our children are enriched by the school’s connection to the city.

And yet, over the past few years, we have considered what more we can do to further engage with the city in order to strengthen students’ connections to the built and natural environments; to provide authentic, real-world learning opportunities; and to take advantage of our unique location in order to learn more from this city, teeming with rich culture, grand innovation, and a history marked by both success and struggle.

In the school’s first decade of operation, David Jolly (teacher from ‘75-’79), developed a City Study program, which had children learning about city infrastructure, architecture, transportation, and more. David immersed the children so deeply into City Study that his fifth and sixth graders engaged in a culminating activity where they were driven out to a spot just outside the city, dropped off, and challenged to navigate their way back to school independently by foot and public transportation. Yes, there was a chaperone along for the journey, but they were only there silently in the background to ensure safety. The 70s weren’t totally without structure and supervision, after all!

In 1979, David left The LP to pursue a PhD in Public Health, but the spirit of what David developed lived on, and still does, through the way that The Learning Project engages with the city on a regular basis, and through its identity as a ‘city school.’ While searching for ways to deepen our students’ connection to the city, details from David’s City Study program were researched and discussed, and an initiative began to revive this concept in a formal way, and to reinvent it from the ground up. We started by building a sturdy foundation and, in 2019, brainstormed the potential purposes of renewing such a program at The Learning Project. Satisfied with the immense benefit that it would provide our school and its children, we translated that vast array of rationales into general, core teaching and learning goals that would apply to all grade levels, K-6, and we fully relaunched City Study in 2022. The objectives for the curriculum are as follows:

  • Students will become active and engaged community members.

  • Students will build connections to the city and a sense of responsibility for the world around them.

  • Students will develop content knowledge through authentic learning opportunities.

  • Students will understand that their learning ecosystem extends beyond the classroom.

  • Students will engage with their city to become familiar with its culture, history, resources, and functional processes.

Through The Learning Project’s City Study program, students of all ages learn about the history of Boston and how it functions today. They get out of the classrooms to explore their city, to connect to their environment, to learn about the social justice issues impacting its residents, to better understand and apply concepts of sustainability, to learn about the complex infrastructure of an urban setting, to hear about what is on the horizon for Boston, and to discover how they can be stewards of their city, and other communities they may find themselves a part of in the future.

Children interact with guest speakers, from architects to non-profit leaders to artists. They travel by public transportation to landmark buildings and historical points of interest, create hands-on projects to apply their learning, and read literature about city life. As such, City Study is naturally cross-disciplinary – incorporating language arts, math, science, health, history and art – and offers our students a unique learning experience that teaches academic skills in a real-world context. And, beyond the engaging nature and educational benefits to our children, this program also reconnects The Learning Project to its roots, and doubles down on its identity and Mission. 

The LP has never been a ‘school in the city’... it is a ‘city school.’ There is a significant difference between the two. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the City Study curriculum as our young Bostonians bridge their learning between the classroom and the streets, sidewalks, buildings, parks, trees, waterways, trains, pipes, artists, leaders, activists, workers, planners, and residents of our beloved city. And while evidence shows that The Learning Project has benefited from our Boston location, I like to think that future evidence will demonstrate that the city has, in turn, benefited from The Learning Project as our students carry their learning with them beyond our small school, knowing where we have been, understanding our present, and dreaming of where our city can go.


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