Partner: Ann Arbor Public Schools
Course: Community Projects in the Arts and Humanities seminar, University of Michigan (syllabi, 2000, 2001)

Students On Site (SOS) was the first project of the UM Arts of Citizenship Program.  It taught us many practices that were coming to be models across higher education.  It emerged in dialogue with our partners.  It was interdisciplinary, evolving, and multi-year, not confined to the stand-alone semester or the stand-alone department.  Student learning was designed to meet the needs of the project, rather than the other way around--and so the learning went deeper.  The project created cultural resources for and with our partners.

SOS grew out of a major public work in central Ann Arbor: the rebuilding of Broadway Bridge across the Huron River and redesign of nearby Broadway Park.  The riverfront district, known as Lower Town, has a rich past.  It was the heart of Ann Arbor's early mill economy and the anchor of the city's historic African-American and immigrant neighborhoods.  The bridge stood next to the old Michigan Central Railroad terminal (now a restaurant) and the ford of a Native-American trail system.  Community historians knew much of this history, but it remained unappreciated in the public lore of the university town.

At the same time, public-school educators in Ann Arbor were redesigning the elementary social-studies curriculum, especially the local- and state-history units mandated for third and fourth grades.  At the suggestion of district administrators and classroom teachers, the SOS project team developed resources to tell the story of Lower Town as a way of teaching children how to think historically about their community.

The core resource was a website that combined lesson planstopical narratives on such themes as the railroad and ethnic communities, and a collection of documents that young learners could explore on their own.  Student teams in my class, Community Projects in the Arts and Humanities, assembled a keyword-searchable archive of several hundred documents, including maps, photographs, personal letters, and newspaper clippings.  They designed and taught community-history units in 3rd- and 4th-grade classrooms.  They led field trips and created a "virtual bus tour" of Ann Arbor history. Over the course of the project (guided by our terrific Project Coordinator, Michelle Craig), they worked with six Ann Arbor elementary schools.

A related project, the Broadway Park Redesign Project, also grew out of the reconstruction of Broadway Bridge.  This was a partnership with the Ann Arbor Department of Parks and Recreation to deepen public understanding of the riverfront district and its history and to encourage public engagement in the redesign of Broadway Park.

Return to Past Projects.

A selection of documents from the searchable archive on the SOS website