Academic News, Student Activities

Downtown Portland: A Classroom Extension

You may think that your daughters believe that going to school downtown is the best because of the school’s proximity to Starbucks and the food carts. But scratch the surface and you will discover a world of opportunities these young women get precisely because of the school’s urban location. I asked faculty a simple question: what places and institutions do you access because of the school’s proximity to 1615 SW 5th Avenue? I hope you will be as impressed as I was.

Many classes take advantage of the PSU Library for research and access to its extensive databases, particularly upper division English and social science classes. The Middle East Studies Center and geography labs at PSU offer further resources for teachers and students. In addition, U.S. Government classes have visited both district and county courthouses downtown to see parts of trials and even a sentencing. One trip included a visit with District Court Judge Anna Brown (SMA Class of ’70)!

Even food carts made their way into a World History League of Nations project, in which a group of students interviewed cart owners about their ethnic dishes and countries of origin. Science Research Methods class has taken field trips to visit science labs at PSU, OHSU on the hill and the waterfront, and the Collaborative Life Science Building on the waterfront. Students with mentors access other institutes as well, including Reed, the University of Portland, Providence Cancer Center, the Oregon Zoo, Legacy Research Institute, and more. The Science Olympiad Team got to visit the PSU cadaver lab. These opportunities happen because we have a downtown with ready public transportation access to a variety of locales.

The Theology Department makes great use of our location. Social Justice classes walked to the Oregon Historical Society for the Oregon Voices exhibits, including the Chinese Inclusion/Exclusion exhibit, which added a focus for the immigration and environmental justice unit. They accessed the Mercy Corp Action Center. During first semester, seniors visited The Chinese Garden during their study of the work of Thomas Merton. They explored the experience of a culture that provides an environment for the special meditative prayer. Hebrew Scripture classes took a bus ride to visit Neveh Shalom, Shaarie Torah or Beth Israel synagogues to enhance their study of Judaica. In addition, they visited a Buddhist temple.

Meg O’Brien said, “It is amazing how things we’ve talked about in class finally ‘click’ when they are in a synagogue looking at an actual Torah being read by a woman rabbi or cantor.”

The Spanish teachers managed to bring every Spanish student to a viewing of Landfill Harmonics at the International Film Festival, a movie they talked about passionately as they walked back to school. French students saw an exhibition of Impressionism at the Art Museum, French 4 students attended a French play at PSU, and French 1 and 4 classes attended movies at the Whitsell Auditorium during the International Film Festival. Latin students study the art of memorizing, a skill prized by ancient Greeks and Romans, and practice the skill in walks around local landmarks such as the Keller Fountain.

It will come as no surprise that the Art Department takes advantage of this great location. Dance classes practice in beautiful Lincoln Hall. Kathy Mitchell routinely takes her Studio Art classes to exhibits at the Portland Art Museum and other galleries. She also has students draw and photograph the Oregon Ballet Theatre warming up for a performance. This year she took her photography class to the Native American Photographs/ Edward Curtis Legacy exhibit at the museum.  Coincidentally, Contemporary Fiction classes saw the same exhibit as a follow-up to their reading of a novel by prominent Native American writer Louise Erdrich. Freshman English classes visited the Nikkei Memorial downtown after reading The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel about the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. Portland Center Stage is a destination for English classes when they produce a play related to their curriculum, such as Othello.

Co-curricular offerings take advantage of our location in creative ways, as well. The Asian Heritage Club attended a Japanese Tea Ceremony at the museum café and visited the Nikkei museum in Old Town. Mock Trial practiced at several courthouses and downtown law offices. All freshmen took part in a retreat/immersion program with our neighbors in Old Town. Often, this powerful one day experience leads to students choosing service opportunities with the agencies they meet. Finally, student leaders have utilized Mercy Corp offices and the PSU Center for Women’s Leadership, resources for those who want to explore opportunities in leading their peers.

In theory, these educational experiences might happen for other schools, but they would require costly bus arrangements and much more time away from other classes. In practice they seldom happen. At St. Mary’s, we walk out the front door, head downtown or find public transportation, and off we go! Partnering with our community resources gives us a multitude of ways to serve your wonderful daughters.