Parsons Promotes Community Service
Aaron Fry and Madeline Schwartzman analyze a vivid book, animated with watercolors and made by a student in the classroom. A few feet away, a trio studies a series of photographs while another group watches a partner model an eye-catching costume. The students are hard at work getting ready for their next visit to the Robert Fulton Elementary School in Brooklyn.
The atmosphere of Laboratory 2: Get Involved—a Parsons course that has been taught for less than two years—is unlike the typical Parsons foundation class. While all foundation courses at Parsons provide students with intensive training, helping art and design students build skills to continue their careers, Get Involved has a different goal. It forces students to work in the real world. Taught by veteran Parsons professors Fry and Schwartzman, Get Involved requires students to travel to P.S. 8, the Robert Fulton School, to work with two classes of second and fourth grade students.
According to Fry, he and Schwartzman are maintain a specific framework for the Parsons students, manage the connection between Parsons and P.S. 8, and ensure “quality control” and “critical dialogue and rigor” amongst the students. “Ultimately, design requires a context in order to become active. Increasingly, the school of design strategies is looking for real life, context-specific learning opportunities for students,” added Fry.
On the first day of class, the Parsons students traveled to Brooklyn and designed a set for P.S. 8’s performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Thirty-five Parsons students worked alongside the kids to construct a world with giant mushrooms, magical cottages, and other fantastic props.
“Doing the set on the first day of class, never having met the majority of our students, was a risk,” conceded Schwartzman. “It took lots of preparation—coordinating materials, two weeks of carrying around boxes to the school, getting permission to use the theater all day, and believing that we could pull it off in five hours.”
The Parsons students were equally nervous about their first day in the classroom with the young artists.
“We were supposed to pick a kid to introduce ourselves to and work with for the future classes," said Julia Wang, a Parsons student. "I was pretty intimidated." Wang added that the class had only "a pretty vague idea" as to what their involvement would be. "Our teachers aren't too keen on having all the details planned out for us," she said, "as we work on more of a rolling-ball basis.”
Fry and Schwartzman trust that this approach to teaching helps prepare the Parsons students in an incomparable way. The class's structure introduces Parsons students to a new form of collaboration. Students learn in a professional environment and experience working with a particular clientele, in this case six- to ten-year-olds.
“We teach process," said Schwartzman. "We expect groups to self-organize, to self-critique, and to generate tons of examples, mock-ups, prototypes, and sketches."
The students revel in their work with the younger students. Matty Schmidt from Parsons, is confident that the P.S. 8 students will learn a lot from the collaboration.
“It’s going to develop them as adults and individuals. There’s at least one kid in that class who’s going to be an art major,” predicted Schmidt.