Architecture may not be what Arlington is famous for, but under a new program planned for Arlington schools, history students may find themselves examining the buildings in their own backyards.
A $62,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will enable Arlington students to study Ballston's bungalows, Clarendon's townhouses and Rosslyn's high-rises, in a program designed to strengthen teaching of American history by exploring architectural changes in Arlington.
"There are dramatic changes taking place in Arlington today," said Seymour Stiss, one of the creators of the program. "We hope to help students understand that what is being built in Arlington today will be left to future generations as a record of our society."
The program, called History by the Block, was designed by Stiss, social studies curriculum specialist for Arlington schools, and Kitty Porterfield, coordinator of the Arlington humanities project -- an arts and education program designed to bring workshops and performances into the schools. They were informed several weeks ago that their proposal had been approved by the endowment. The new course will begin next fall.
"The grant we were awarded is to write a revised social studies curriculum for grades 3, 7, 8 and 11 to include a study of environment," said Porterfield, "especially using Arlington as a kind of microcosm of how man affects his environment. Two questions asked will be how man changes his environment by the buildings he builds and how buildings we build affect the way we live.
"There is an exciting process of change going on in Arlington today," Porterfield added. "It is not any one particular building that is so exciting as the fact that we are right in the middle of making changes that will affect people's lives for many years to come, such as in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor."
The idea for the proposal grew out of the Architects in the Schools program in Arlington, in which local architects visit classrooms.
"As we began getting more and more into social and historical concerns within the county in the program, we saw the need for a more comprehensive and organized approach," said Porterfield.
One projects that emerged from the three-year-old Architects in the Schools program was a study of Ballston by eighth graders at Swanson Intermediate School. Their teacher, Cathy Eckbreth, worked with architect Theodore Kvell in helping students prepare a report and a model of the buildings in Ballston.
"Student response is one of the exciting things about working with architecture and kids because when you deal with concrete, three-dimensional things, you tap a kind of learning resource that speaks to kids who sometimes aren't too good with books or pencils," said Porterfield.
The new curriculum will include visits to Arlington sites and metropolitan locations to view different architecture styles. Among the advisers working with Porterfield and Stiss to develop the program will be Forrest Wilson, professor of architecture at Catholic University; Alan Sandler, of the American Institute of Architects; architect Kvell; and architectural historians Ira Berlin and Emily Eig.
Although Arlington received less than half of the $140,000 it had requested for the program, endowment officials praised its concept.
"It's part of a widespread national interest in local history," said Roberts. "And this is a particularly appropriate time in history for students to grow up with a better sense of the heritage of the buildings and the communities in which they live."