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City as Our Campus

City as Our Campus is a community-based learning program that enables students and teachers to engage, utilize, and study the community.

City as Our Campus is an extension of our core academic curriculum and augments it by providing real-world experiences. By working with diverse members of the community, students don’t just gain understanding of the community’s most pressing issues, they work to solve them. City as Our Campus is driving Pittsburgh’s learning ecosystem and putting students and teachers at the center of it.


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

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December 2018
City as Our Campus functions as a regular reminder that we, as Winchester Thurston, are part of a living, breathing city. A city which is continually being created and recreated by the people who call it home. I couldn’t imagine a more powerful idea to introduce to students - this process of the creation of a more equitable, just, and inclusive city for all people who are making a home here.

About the innovation

City as Our Campus

Winchester Thurston School is a prekindergarten to grade 12 independent school located in Pittsburgh, PA. City as Our Campus is a community-based learning initiative integrated in our core academic curriculum. Through these experiential learning experiences, Winchester Thurston engages community members as co-educators, utilizes community spaces as learning environments outside of the classroom, and encourages students to study and address various community issues. 

City as Our Campus is a faculty driven program, which allows them to implement community-based learning in personally meaningful ways for their classroom and students. It is one of the many teaching methods our faculty can utilize to engage their students. This embedded program model allows for every student, prekindergarten to grade 12, to participate in this initiative through various experiences that align with each individual teacher's curriculum and goals. 

Winchester Thurston School partnered with the Learning Research and Development Center at University of Pittsburgh to study City as Our Campus and its impact on student learning. Through this effort, we identified the following benefits achieved through participation in City as Our Campus:

  • Depth and purpose to the content was experienced by learning from those doing the work in the community and/or those experiencing what students are learning about. 
  • A higher level of mastery was achieved through the process of actively applying learning to authentic situations that embrace the ambiguity and complexity of the real-world. 
  • Teachers and students experienced greater engagement and enjoyment because they were able to pursue passions that were personally meaningful to them. 

We believe that City as Our Campus is an innovative approach to teaching and learning that helps our students have a higher level of mastery and a stronger set of skills that will prepare them to be active and engaged members of the community. 

Implementation steps

Pursuing Purpose

1. Articulate your vision of community-based learning based on how the work could align with your school's mission and philosophy. 

2. Draft a set of goals that you hope to accomplish through community-based learning and how community-based learning could impact these four areas of your school: Student Learning, Teacher Development, School Identity, and Community Conditions. 

3. Survey faculty about their perceptions of how community-based learning could align with the school's mission and/or their personal educational philosophy. 

Experience It

1. Identify interests that align with faculty goals, as well as their personal passions and interests. 

2. Based on that information, design experiential learning opportunities in the community for faculty and staff to engage in. Highlight potential partners and meaningful experiences that help teachers to realize the impact of community-based learning. 

3. Participate in these experiential learning opportunities as a team to increase awareness and comfort of community-based learning. Utilize the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about how to design and implement community-based learning at your school. 

Finding Opportunity

1. Ask faculty to assist with drafting clear programmatic goals and learning outcomes that could be achieved through community-based learning. 

2. Survey the faculty to determine if they are already engaging students in ways that could be considered community-based learning or align with the programmatic goals and learning outcomes identified. 

3. Utilize this information to identify the teachers who are already engaged with community-based learning and could be empowered to be "champions" of the work with the other faculty members. Provide them with support and resources to further develop and promote their work. 

4. Encourage other faculty to consider if there are areas of their curriculum that could be reimagined to include community resources or issues. 

Identify Critical Components

1. Consider the conditions that need to be created to allow for teachers to design, implement, and sustain community-based learning experiences. These might include:

  • Opportunities and time for teachers to collaborate with each other and administrators
  • An outline of the types of experiences that could be created, such as moments (guest speakers, workshops), off-site trips, project-based learning experiences, units of study, etc. 
  • School structure that is conducive to regular off-site experiences, e.g. daily schedule that allows for large blocks of instructional time

2. Identify the mechanisms needed to ensure coherence of projects across the school community, such as:

  • Clear and communicated curricular goals that align with school mission
  • Coordinated experiences across all grade levels and disciplines
  • Common tools for assessment of desired student outcomes
  • Routines and opportunities for cross-school sharing of work
  • Opportunities for individual and collective reflection and troubleshooting

3. Ensure that individual projects align with the objectives of the broader school through the following characteristics:

  • School mission and vision that clearly aligns with the goals of community-based learning
  • A curriculum with a K-12 scope, sequence, and assessment aligned with core programmatic goals
  • Vision of teaching that differs from traditional expectations of the role of teachers
  • Faculty professional development and evaluation system conducive to progressive teaching methods with a continuous improvement model 
  • Flexible structure to accommodate the ambiguous nature of community-based learning

Build Networks

Find potential partners in your community to build a network of people who can assist in this work and to help teachers realize opportunities that exist.

  • Ask teachers if they already have connections to different community members and groups that could be utilized. 
  • Identify parents' professions and workplaces to find opportunities for engagement with their networks. 
  • Contact organizations who have a connection to the topics and interests of teachers and students. 

Get to Work!

Assist teachers in developing and implementing community-based learning experiences using some of these suggested methods. 

1. Facilitate brainstorming sessions focused on some of the following questions:

  • Could content be introduced in a new way through community-based or project-based learning experiences?
  • How could students apply their learning to an authentic situation?
  • Could students demonstrate their learning through community engagement or public presentation?
  • What area of your curriculum is difficult to teacher? How could a community-based help?
  • Could a community partner inspire or connect with curricular goals and/or student interests?

2. As teachers engage in these conversations and begin to develop experiences, find connections between individual projects and begin to pull ideas together to create a full scale program. 

3. Encourage teacher collaboration that also serves as professional development for your faculty. Ask teachers to share the work they are doing and regularly publish projects in an easily accessible way for everyone.

Address Challenges and Iterate

As a group, Identify the challenges that teachers are experiencing and address those through faculty sharing and professional development. 

For example, consider the following engagement opportunities:

  • Ask a teacher to share a challenge and conduct a group brainstorming session to think through it.
  • Highlight the importance of iterative design by encouraging a teacher to share an experience that did not go well, but was improved over time.
  • Prioritize professional development opportunities that directly address challenges experienced by a majority of teachers, such as focusing on assessment strategies. 

Engage in a process of continuous reflection and refinement as you iterate on the program model to ensure long-term success. 

Get Engaged

There are many schools engaging in community-based learning experiences. It is helpful to document, publish, and share the work you are doing with the broader educational community so we can create a learning network committed to this work. 

A great example of this effort is the research study Winchester Thurston School conducted in partnership with University of Pittsburgh. See the attached document for a summary of that report. 

Contact Winchester Thurston School to learn how you can get involved in the community of schools we are building. 

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