Seventh and eighth‐grade students can be difficult to reach. But not for Danielle Martin. The third‐year student in the LSU School of Architecture is teaching a group of middle school students at the Math and Science Academy in Plaquemine about architecture – giving these young teens their first introduction into the world of design ‐‐ and they are enjoying every minute of it.
“The kids are really excited about it,” says Kristal Yush, who coordinates LA Gear Up, the state‐run grant program through which Martin’s course is made possible. “We even have students in older grades who are jealous that our 7th and 8th graders get to take it. They’ve heard so many good things they want to be able to do it too.”
Martin has been teaching the course throughout the spring semester to more than 30 students at the Plaquemine magnet school. In her first few classes she introduced them to the basics of design and architecture, which was the first time most of the young students had even thought about such concepts. Then she covered different types of building materials and styles, as well as sustainable design or “green” building.
For the final few weeks of class, the students have been working on their own design for an environmental studies addition to their school building. They have done sketches, computer renderings and are building 3D models, which will be presented to the school administration at the end of the year.
“I wanted to make them go through the whole process,” Martin says.
Martin has worked with kids since she graduated from high school three years ago. She has especially enjoyed teaching the program at MSA because she has been able to introduce young teens to a field and a possible career path that most of them had never thought of before. As a teenager in Chalmette, she wasn’t able to take art or design classes in her school, an opportunity she realizes now was lost, given her natural abilities in the design field.
“When I was in middle school I wasn’t even allowed to take art because if you were in honors you had to take Spanish or what they considered appropriate,” she says. “Now I realize art would’ve been much better for me. I’m glad these kids have this opportunity.”
Administrators at MSA are thankful, too, that Martin has put together the program. It has come, coincidentally, at a time when the school is undergoing renovation so having a construction site on campus has made the class that much more meaningful.
“The students are able to understand the process and planning and Danielle’s been really great about bringing them out to construction sites and talking them through it then implementing those concepts into the lessons she’s teaching them,” says Yush. “She has blown me away with her preparedness and professionalism.”
Yush has known Martin for several years through the LSU track team. In addition to everything else Martin does, she’s also a member of the team, which is coached by Yush’s husband. It was at a track function, in fact, that Yush and Martin came up with the idea of offering the class through LA Gear Up, a state‐run grant program that gives money to schools to support the visual arts.
Based on this year’s success, Yush, Martin and the community at the Math and Science Academy hope to do it again next year.
“We’ve already put the proposal in for next year so we’re hopeful it will work out,” says Martin. “All the kids are excited, too. They’re already talking about it.” Leder says.