Bexley News

Bexlandia: Model city grows from real-life questions

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PHOTO COURTESY OF BEXLEY CITY SCHOOLS
Adding the final touches to their ultimate city, Bexlandia, are Cassingham Elementary School first-graders (from left) Olivia Tuber, Spencer Payne and Josh Eisenberg. The city, built from recycled food boxes, construction paper and glue, took nearly two weeks to create and spanned more than six large tables at the school.
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While many adults may be fixated on the shenanigans in Downton Abbey, the place to be at Cassingham Elementary School is Bexlandia.

Bexlandia is a city created by first-grade students at Bexley. Cracker boxes, cereal boxes, construction paper and glue have all been used to build the ultimate city -- North and South -- where students can live, work and play.

It's a hands-on life lesson that the students delight in creating, said teachers at the school.

"The kids love it, and they really get it," said Kelly Hood, a first-grade teacher at Cassingham. "We start at the beginning and ask them what is living and what is non-living. Then we build it up from there."

The project is in its fifth year at the school and is a favorite among students and parents. Moms and dads were frequent visitors to the display just before the winter break, snapping photos of their children behind the buildings they created.

The city even has its own Facebook site.

Bexlandia is the final phase of a larger project first-graders tackle at Cassingham in which they learn about organizing themselves into working communities. They learn communities are where people live, work and play, but it's the interworking of those three elements that the young planners really sink their teeth into.

For example, in order to thrive, a community needs air -- so it must have trees, bushes and other plants to thrive. It also needs water, so students explore how water supplies originate.

"When we asked the students where water comes from, one told me simply, 'It comes out of the faucet,' " Hood said.

The simplistic answer opened the door to a much-deeper discussion of how drinking water arrives into homes and where it originates.

"Their questions cause us to further delve into other topics," Hood said.

Construction takes place, on and off, over a two-week period before the winter break. Erika Siddiq, another first-grade teacher at Cassingham, said Bexlandia was bigger than ever this year as discussions and brainstorming by students blossomed.

"In the abstract of the project, they begin to understand city planning," she said.

But the project gets their creative juices flowing as well, she added.

"That's the beauty of first grade -- they are free thinkers."

Each component of Bexlandia contained the buildings where people lived and worked. They also contained synagogues, zoos, pools, parks, art museums, pet stores and even an arcade.

"The students were sure that it would draw in some big business," said Siddiq with a smile.

After the students completed their ideal cities, they were interviewed by their fifth-grade buddies about the project, then hosted tours welcoming other students from throughout the rest of the school.

They even hosted a regular town-hall meeting in Bexlandia.

In the end, the project was more than just cutting and pasting.

"They really came to understand how we organize ourselves around our needs and wants," said Hood. "Everyone's Bexlandia looked a little different."

Siddiq agreed.

"As they travel through downtown Columbus or in another city, I think they will be looking at each a little differently," she said.

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