Middle Schoolers are capable of amazing things.
I was reminded of that again recently while visiting Jason Lee Middle School’s glassblowing program facilities. I was there with a small group involved in the design of a similar glass studio for a high school in the Seattle area. I’d come to see how the space was organized, what equipment was being used, how that equipment was laid out, and generally to understand better the work flow and necessary space requirements for a glass program.
I came away with all the information I was looking for, but what I really brought back from this experience was a deep appreciation for the level of maturity and focus of the students, and the incredible respect evident in the instructors’ work with them. I watched as the instructor deftly manipulated a blowpipe working with 3 of the students, while two other groups of students were independently practicing various portions of the process by gathering molten glass out of the furnaces and working in teams to shape and re-shape them. Standing towards the back of the studio, all I could think was “Ummm… isn’t that something like TWO THOUSAND degrees in those furnaces?” Yet there they were, these 12 and 13-year-olds, completely absorbed and engaged in their work/learning/art for the entire 40 minutes of our visit.
When we design middle schools, we often talk with teachers and staff about creating places that respect the students. We try to “design up” by providing spaces, finishes, and furnishings that support and inspire a level of maturity beyond what some people feel these students are capable of. Watching these middle schoolers working intensely (and safely) with their glowing molten blobs of glass gave me added confidence that we’re on the right track.
I should mention also what a great program they’re running at Jason Lee Middle School. Check out their good work and some inspiring success stories here: http://hilltopartists.org/