"We prepare students to engage in the world that is and to help bring about a world that ought to be."

Building Bridges

Candy arcades, chocolate water fountains, towering bunk beds, and donut shops with unlimited supplies—Jesse Pasca’s Architecture students are tackling these extravagant requests after taking on ‘clients' from Jaja's and Katherine’s first grade class in a collaborative effort to build their dream spaces. This interdisciplinary project is built on an imaginative process and focuses on reimagining space and materials and breaking down the boundaries of design. The desire to please their Lower School counterparts allows Jesse’s students to tap into their own whimsical childhood wishlists and broaden their thinking. 

“I’m creating conditions that are optimal for creativity to happen and allows students the space to be themselves,” Jesse explains of his teaching philosophy. “Architecture is one of the most complete forms of art and design because it relies on so many elements and has the capacity to truly improve people’s lives.” 

Before meeting, Jaja Engel-Snow and Katherine Hurewitz instructed their first graders to conceptualize their pipe-dream space to spend time in. After being grouped together based on similar tastes, they were then assigned an US architect who interviewed them. Following the kick off intake session, Upper Schoolers got to work on concept drawing and developing moodboards to present to their clients to ensure they were aligned on the final deliverables. 

The studios have been buzzing as the two divisions have been working hand-in-hand in the development of the visionary 3D models. “I’m lucky as an artist and as an art teacher because everything can be utilized in our studio and students are able to make powerful connections here.”

Upper School architects will be presenting their final designs to their critical clients in early March. The experience has allowed Upper Schoolers to think more radically about design while promoting confidence in Lower Schoolers.

Jaja explains, “what’s really special about this project is seeing some of the oldest and youngest students deeply engaged in a joint venture. They were completely engrossed in their role as clients for their Upper School partners. I think it’s an unusual experience for a first grader to have a “big kid” take their ideas so seriously and be so interested in what they have to say.”  

This will also dovetail into first grade’s annual Neighborhood project. Aligned with Quaker values, the activities focus on what constitutes a neighborhood and its unique characteristics and culture. First graders typically take tours of the School’s surroundings and Stuyvesant Park and practice mapping skills in the classroom. Teams of two then decide the most important features of their mini-replica city block and use recycled materials to build a hospital, post office, apartment buildings, fire station and more. Jesse, Jaja and Katherine will team up again in the spring when first graders will be constructing their cities.

This classroom collaboration, at the intersection of art, technology, and design caught the attention of producers and is expected to be featured in an upcoming PBS docuseries in 2024. The series, CONFLUENCE: Art, Science, and Creativity, will illuminate how unexpected connections between art and science have fostered creativity throughout history until today, and how understanding these synergies enables us to better understand our world. 

“Creativity is in all of us,” Jesse points out. But sometimes it takes a step back a couple flights down Hunter Hall to the Lower School to rediscover it.
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Friends Seminary — the oldest continuously operated, coeducational school in NYC — serves college-bound day students in Kindergarten-Grade 12.