Five Questions With: Joe Baer, director of Cityside at Wheeler

Joe Baer | Cityside at Wheeler director, The Wheeler School

1. What is Cityside at Wheeler and when did it begin? The impetus for teaching in Providence’s neighborhoods began over a decade ago [with] faculty collaborations in eighth grade history classes [at [The Wheeler School]. In its inaugural year, Cityside is an interdisciplinary and academic inquiry-based approach that uses the city as an inspiration and a resource for teaching and learning. As a yearlong program, students … develop meaningful relationships with local experts and stakeholders.

2. Why did the program locate at the WaterFire Arts Center and what does that embedding do for the students? The facility gives us studio space that supports multifaceted activities in STEM, multimedia and technology. Our relationship with WaterFire staff opens up many programmatic collaborations for our students. Students get a behind-the-scenes look at an array of events, which animates their learning.

3. Why is it designed for eighth graders, as opposed to older students? Eighth graders are at a perfect age where their cognitive abilities engender curiosity about social, political, economic and cultural issues. Watching their maturation and ascending sense of citizenship is thrilling.

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4. The Wheeler School is located on the East Side. Do the students visit other neighborhoods as part of the program? With Cityside based at the Waterfire Arts Center, part of The Wheeler School is now located in the Valley section of Providence, and we regularly work in the neighborhoods of Smith Hill, Olneyville, Mount Pleasant, Wanskuck, Manton, Hartford, Federal Hill, Upper South Providence, Elmwood and downtown.

5. What are some of the work products produced by students at the end of the program? We currently have 22 projects underway, all of which must have value to a partnering agency or the larger community. For example, one project seeks to expand composting programs, which provides a vivid science lesson for our students, while another project is strengthening the social media presence of a nonprofit organization, which develops writing skills. Other projects include promotion of FringePVD, making a podcast series about initiatives from the Providence Office of Sustainability, writing grants to install a student-designed sculpture at Peace and Plenty Park, establishing a lacrosse program at the Boys and Girls [Clubs of Providence], interviewing Erminio Pinque from Big Nazo on WELH [FM 88.1] Radio, researching the history of city parks and much more.

Mary MacDonald is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at

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