Emily Cox, Herald Times

Dec 3, 2019 -- At the Project School, it’s not uncommon for a Lowe’s gift card to be dropped off at the front desk, power tools to be in the mailbox, or parents to offer up a 12-passenger van.

Yearlong service-oriented projects done by seventh and eighth graders have been happening for years, and Tarrey Banks and Scott Wallace, who co-teach the seventh and eighth grade classes, said parents and community members know that whatever they donate will be put to use for a project at some point.

A reputation has been built, Banks said. He hadn’t even left the showcase of last year’s project before people were asking him what the next one would be.

This year, students are working with clients to design and build auxiliary backyard structures, such as playhouses and studios, for at least 10 current or upcoming Habitat for Humanity homes, known as “Project:Place.”

“I think part of the beauty of this project is a lot of these structures will be built from stuff that was used on another project, “ Banks said. “We’re going to resource stuff as much as possible, so it’s also got a sustainability focus in that regard, which is great.”

Banks said partnerships help them figure out what’s needed in the community. This year the project is 100% service oriented, he said.

Each Friday, Alex Minor, Tucker Jarroll and Ernesto Casteaneda, architects and designers from Loren Wood Builders, come to the school from 11 to noon to teach.

Emma Wild, an eighth grader, said she likes that they come in consistently because they can pick up where they left off the week before.

“It’s amazing,” Minor said. “I love it, just being around all the kids and they’re all so incredibly smart. They’re great and talented. I can see several of them taking my job in a few years.”

Part of what students have been working on so far is drawing structures from different angles. One day students went to sketch the courthouse from different points of view.

Emma said she’s most excited about drawing blueprints and planning the space to make it functional.

At this stage, students are focusing on the big picture, Minor said.

“So far, we’ve taught them mainly about the early stages,” Minor said. “How to conceptualize, understanding what the big idea is, understanding what the client really needs, understanding what the scope of work is and how to sort of guide clients in the right direction if you need to.”

Along with understanding design and building, Banks said the other part of the project is understanding the mission of Habitat for Humanity. This includes learning about housing options in Bloomington, and the class has already begun to build a 3D topographic map of the county.

Nathan Ferreira, director of land development and production for Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County, said Habitat’s mission of eliminating poverty housing should be everyone’s mission.

“Habitat’s vision is to build strength, stability, self reliance and shelter,” Ferreira said. “I think we’re usually seen as being solely focused on that shelter piece, but this is such an opportunity for community building. Loren (Wood) is on our board, we have Habitat parents who have kids that go to this school, so there’s a there’s a natural synergy for us to be involved in this.”

Ferreira said students learning about housing in Monroe County at this stage of life is a great thing.

“We do a lot more than I think we realized when we started building houses,” Ferreira said. “It’s really the community building that makes people thrive and develop that self reliance over time, and home, it helps create home. So I think this is a really cool project for creating that for them.”

Eli Roussos, an eighth grader, said in the future, he wants to buy houses, remodel and renovate them, then sell them.

“It helps to learn about the actual construction part, the physical labor,” Eli said about the project. “The designing part and the planning sounds fun, but I also want to see how it all fits together, because you’ve got to buy different materials, you’ve got to probably shave them a little bit, cut off however much you don’t need and then see the finished product.”

Minor said designing can apply to many different aspects of life. Someone can design a conversation or an email or apply designing to art and color theory, he said. Wallace said learning that was the goal of last year’s project.

“We felt like we were getting pigeonholed as these are the guys who build stuff,” Wallace said. “We’re really passionate about design.”

So they set out to design something that wasn’t physical, which led to making documentaries.

When it comes to thinking of project ideas, Wallace said he and Banks consider what’s trending and what students might be seeing on social media, as well as what needs could be met.

“We kind of had this epiphany,” Wallace said. “You know, when people think about school projects and you get the classic like, ‘Let’s do a movie night and fundraise for kids in Haiti,’ I think for certain ages that’s great. But we think 13 and 14 year olds can do more than that. We also learned that there’s all kinds of really smart people out there doing great work that we don’t need to recreate. Instead, we need to find those people, let them teach our kids and figure out how we can support them.”

Wallace said he and Banks made an agreement to honor big ideas, no matter how big.

As this year’s project continues, students will be in teams of six. Banks said students will come up with names for their company and apply for positions within the groups, such as lead architect or documentarian, as well as design their own websites and logos.

In June, an event will be held to showcase the project. Banks said documentaries made by students of the project will be shown and he hopes clients will be there.

October 15, 2019 -- The Project School is honored to have received the Old National Bank "Tools for Schools" grant for the fifth year in a row. This unrestricted grant was awarded to TPS after a regional voting competition. The school with the greatest number of votes in each of Old National Bank's 14 regions received $1000.

The Project School is in its 11th year of operation as a nonprofit, chartered public school. It was founded by local public school educators who care deeply about education, and who share a vision for what innovative, whole-child education should look like for all children. TPS currently serve 279 diverse children from kindergarten through grade 8, including 25% students with special learning needs, and 35% children experiencing poverty. All students in this inclusive school are treated as individuals with unique learning needs and goals. Enrollment is determined by a lottery system that is open to all families who reside in Indiana.

Annually, approximately 300 children remain on the school's waiting list, due to limited physical space, many with special learning needs and socio-economic challenges. The leadership of TPS is saddened that they are unable to serve a greater number of deserving families who desire its heart-mind-voice educational vision. Since first opening its doors, the goal of TPS has been to educate and impact the lives of as many marginalized children in the community as possible.

Brittani Howell, Herald Times
Let The Credits Roll: Project School Wraps Up Yearlong Documentary Project

June 10, 2019 -- Students from the Project School walked a red carpet outside the Buskirk-Chumley Theater last Monday as they headed into a screening of their own documentary films.

“Project: Documentary,” a yearlong project for the seventh- and eighth-grade classes, had recently wrapped up with 17 different 10-minute documentaries. Like real filmmakers, the students celebrated with a grand premiere of their work, attended by many of the people they had interviewed over the months working on the project.

Tarrey Banks and Scott Wallace, who co-teach the seventh- and eighth-grade classes, rolled out the project at the beginning of 2018-19 as their unifying idea for the school year. The two teachers always pick a big, hands-on project for the school year. For 2017-18, their students created structures like chicken coops, rain barrels and beehives for local families practicing urban homesteading.

“We got a reputation as the guys with power tools, but we wanted to show that design was everywhere,” Wallace said.

They wanted to “flip the script,” he said. What better way — literally and figuratively — than a film-based project?

The first semester was dedicated to studying documentary film and filmmaking. Using pieces like “Chasing Ice,” “Free Solo” and “Which Way Home,” the students learned about the arts of editing and interviewing and the elements of a compelling, watchable story. They studied different genres of documentaries, from personal profiles to issue-oriented pieces.

Then, for the second half of the year, they developed and filmed their own 10-minute-long mini documentaries. The films could be about anything students wanted, as long as they met two parameters: They had to be about a place, person or problem in Bloomington, and they had to incorporate the Project School’s school-wide theme for the year, “Borders, Boundaries and Limits.”

The students found creative ways to interpret the theme and explored a wild variety of topics. Miles Petro, for instance, worked on a feature called “Who Haunts the Waldron?” about a local ghost story: Don Owens, who was supposedly shot and killed in the John Waldron Arts Center when it was still Bloomington’s City Hall.

“It was, for the most part, an untold story that a lot of people didn’t know about in the first place,” he said. In a way, “it pushed the limits of what’s being talked about with the Waldron.”

One film explored political divides; others studied housing issues, or local bookstores and businesses from Vintage Phoenix Comics to the Starlite Drive-In. Another took a look at a local circus school; another, at the anxieties of first- and second-graders as they moved up to third and fourth grade. They interviewed Mayor John Hamilton, a senator, business owners and local leaders.

The students worked with a few filmmakers with local ties to refine their pitches. Banks said the connection helped them understand the real-world implications of their work and what it might be like to do it in a professional setting.

“It was nerve-wracking,” said Irene Kropf-Estell, whose team filmed a feature on the Hoosier Heights rock climbing gym. “I was ready to take their feedback and change my ideas, but also I was nervous that they were going to hate all our ideas. But they were really nice to us, because they knew it was our first time.”

The filmmakers helped them refine their ideas and gave them tips, like emphasizing the importance of lighting and sound.

“It made us more aware of how to set up our lights when we were doing the interview,” Irene said.

Knowing about B-roll — supplemental footage to help add variety to the film — was also helpful, said Sam Law. “That’s how you can make really good cuts in the interviews.”

Of course, film making doesn’t stop with editing the credits. The students also learned about marketing their pieces. They gave their teams creative names, like “Unorthodox Productions” or “Silhouette Studios,” and created logos to go with them. They studied posters for existing documentaries and created their own, which they hung just outside the doors of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater for the screening.

Last Monday evening, about 500 guests took their seats for the screening of the 17 films. Hearing people react to their work in real time with laughter and applause was gratifying on a level many of the students had never experienced before.

Having worked on their projects for more than half the year, they were attached to their products, Sam said. Some of them had stayed after school, or worked into the late hours of the last editing nights, to make their pieces look polished.

“When you work on a project for more than half the year, you can’t really bear to be done with it and put it away unless you feel like it exceeds expectations,” Sam said. “And I think that’s what we really wanted to do here, was show people that even though we’re younger, we can make things that look professional.”

June 10, 2020 -- In their hopes to create a more universally accessible playground at the Waldron, Hill and Buskirk Park (3rd street Park), students from the 6/7 class will be presenting during the City Council meeting on Wednesday, June 12th at 6:30p. This presentation is a culmination of work they have done this year after researching, writing, applying for grants, meeting with local officials, partnering with agencies, and striving to increase disabilities awareness.

The Playground Project began in the fall when the class watched a couple of news stories and read articles about the borders, boundaries, and limits that people with disabilities sometimes encounter with amusement parks and playgrounds and how people who cared made a difference. Students began to consider the playground and park that we use for recess and saw that it is, in many ways, inaccessible. One student who uses a wheelchair shared that she takes a book to recess because there isn’t much at the park that is accessible to her. That statement hit the class hard and they immediately began to dream about tackling this problem.

This has been a BIG dream and a BIG project, but as one student said when they were told this would not be easy, “It’s not easy, but I don’t think that is what we are going for. We are going for what is RIGHT.”

The presentation to the City Council follows a Disabilities Awareness Fair that the class organized for the community earlier in the school year, attended by over two hundred of individuals and organizations. The 6/7 class - and all of these associated activities - have been led by Lead Teacher, Cindy Stark.

May 16, 2019 -- Middle School Students from The Project School will present 14 original micro documentaries (films up to 10 minutes in length) exploring individuals, organizations, businesses and issues impacting our local community. The free film premiere, "Project:Documentary," will take place on Monday, June 3, 6-8pm, at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington. The entire community is invited to attend.

Sixty students in the combined seventh and eighth grade spent the 2018-2019 school year exploring documentary filmmaking. They received training from local documentary filmmakers and learned about the key elements of compelling films. Using the framework of the school’s “problem, place and project” based interdisciplinary curriculum, students then worked in teams to develop and pitch documentary film concepts to a panel of educators and filmmakers. Once determined, fourteen filmmaking teams spent the remainder of the academic year crafting their films.

Scott Wallace, member of the lead teaching team of the middle school at The Project School, shared what has inspired him the most about the many months-long project. “We are so impressed by the quality of the products these seventh and eighth graders have created. The students took inspiration from some well-known, classic documentaries, and the results are inspiring. They have shown just how effective documentary film can be at prompting change and illuminating the heroes among us. We know that the subjects of these films will be rightfully honored by the viewing of the work, and that those who attend the screening will not be able to believe that these are the work of thirteen and fourteen-year old youth.”

Project:Documentary is the culmination of an in-depth study of story-telling as a tool for community impact and transformation. Student filmmakers will be on hand at the premiere to answer questions and to discuss the inspiration and motivation behind their films. This event is free and open to the public, and will take place on Monday, June 3, 6-8pm at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington.

View all films screened at the event

View a promotional video created for the event

April 1, 2019 -- TPS parent volunteer extraordinaire Joseph Fowler was recently interviewed by WFHB for their radio program highlighting volunteerism in the community. We are so honored that Joseph represented our school and the important work he does to help us in so many ways. You can find Joseph every week helping out in classrooms, serving lunch in the café, and creating an awesome event on our Project Celebration planning committee… and you can hear his voice here in his Activate interview, which just aired today. Thank you, Joseph!