Coming off their big win as the first place team in the Tampa Bay Region Future City competition, students in Berkeley Preparatory School’s Future City Club have big plans to make a winning impression with the judges at the national finals later this month. Their hard work and first place finish has already caught the attention of regional planning officials who have invited the Berkeley students to participate in upcoming regional planning workshops.
In January, the team’s "Jugnum Novus Orbis" project took first place out of 20 other schools in the Tampa Region. The team is now preparing to compete against 36 other regional winners from across the country at the Future City National Finals in Washington, D.C. on February 17. The Future City Competition is a national, project-based learning experience where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade imagine, design and build cities of the future.
“I’m thrilled, not only that we won the regional competition, but did so with such young competitors,” said Kate Baten, a middle division science teacher at Berkeley and director of the Future City Club. She explained that the winning team presenters Bethany Schneider, Nirav Aggarwal and Kelland Timothy are all in the 6th grade, making them some of the youngest competitors going into the national competition. “Such an accomplishment really speaks to how prepared our team members were going into the competition and how hard they worked.”
The Future City competition requires students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ 4 Deluxe software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models with recycled materials; and present their ideas before judges. Berkeley’s project was a three-tiered city housed within a dormant volcano.
Baten explained that the team’s winning project was based on an essay by two Berkeley 7th graders, Faizan Sagheer and Andre Armero, following an assignment for the entire 7th grade class who were asked to envision their idea of a utopian society after reading The Giver
by Lois Lowry. The students were asked to realistically explain how the city’s infrastructure, like storm water run-off and power grids, would function. In fact, Berkeley’s Hannah Cesaretti’s essay on storm water runoff issues – this year’s competition theme – was so well articulated that it took the first place prize for Best Essay at the regional competition.
After some well-deserved publicity for their win, the Berkeley students have been invited by the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission and Metropolitan Planning Organization to participate in the Imagine 2040 Working Group. The group invites the public to provide input, crafting scenarios and assumptions, on a countywide, long-range transportation plan called Plan 2040. Through a series of workshops, the students will help develop several scenarios for the year 2040's growth and infrastructure within Hillsborough County. These scenarios will be used to kick off extensive public engagement in the development of Plan 2040 later this year.
“At the Planning Commission and Metropolitan Planning Organization, our business is planning for the future,” said Lynn Merenda, a Community Planner and Public Engagement Specialist with the consolidated planning agency. “And how could we do that without looking at things from the perspective of our children? Given that we are on the onset of updating our Transportation and Comprehensive Plans through the year 2040, it seemed that it only made sense to invite a group of students so immersed in planning for the future to be involved with planning for their future right now, right here in Hillsborough County.”
She explained that students’ input will be very helpful because they spend a significant amount of time considering all the possibilities the future can hold without limiting their perspective of what’s occurred in the past. “There’s great insight to be gained when you ask a middle school student where and how they see themselves living when they are 30 or 50.” Berkeley will be well represented by several students at the workshop series in the coming weeks and months.
In the meantime, Berkeley will send seven students to the National Finals in Washington. The students are all members of the school’s Future City Club that was established for students in grades 6-8 interested in engineering, architecture and municipal planning. Although this will be Berkeley’s first appearance at the national finals, the team feels they have a great chance at bring home the first place prize that includes a trip to Space Camp for the winning team.