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ASU students help Emerson School celebrate 100 years of history

Emerson school students sitting in a circle in a library with ASU staff and faculty.

ASU faculty, staff and students speak with Emerson School students during the 100 year celebration project. Photo courtesy Kristina Friedgen

May 26, 2022

Beginning last summer, Arizona State University's Design and Arts Corps co-developed a new partnership with Emerson School, a school in Phoenix that teaches kindergarten through eighth grade.

The partnership sought to honor and celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary through different projects that included planting 100 trees, collecting oral histories from school faculty and alumni, and diorama building. 

The Design and Arts Corps, which is within the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, is an integrated, community-engaged design and arts program that engages in direct and ethical partnerships and collaborations with communities through design-and-arts-based programming.

The project's main goals were to promote “a sense of belonging in the Emerson community and encouraging the current students at Emerson to understand the legacy of the school,” according to the leader of the project, Kristina Friedgen, a graduating MFA student from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and graduate student artist-in-residence for the Design and Arts Corps. 

“I would say that building that trust and connection between Arizona State University's team and the students and faculty at Emerson was a major success of this project,” Friedgen said. “It should set up future projects to make a lot of progress toward those two bigger goals.”

Friedgen recruited the undergraduate students she taught in her HDA 310: Socially Engaged Practice course, two additional undergraduate students and two graduate students from the Herberger Institute, as well as four undergraduate history students from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies for the project. 

Organizing all of the students from ASU and the students from Emerson was a challenge, Friedgen said, but by keeping the mission of the project at the forefront, it was fulfilling to see it all come together. 

“Seeing both the middle schoolers and college students learn from each other and create something together made the complications all worth it,” Friedgen said. “I'm also very proud of the interpersonal growth and connection made by all of the students involved.”

Friedgen remembers one class struggling to work with each other near the beginning of the project, but ultimately coming together to write, design and star in their own movie called “Zombie Apocalypse at Emerson.” Other projects from other classes included a short story, a magazine, a year book and a comic book.

“I was so excited to see the ways in which the students co-designed and co-created their projects to celebrate the 100 year anniversary,” said Xanthia Walker, program coordinator for the Design and Arts Corps and Herberger Institute alumna. “Each group of seventh- and eighth-grade students worked with (Friedgen) and the team to design and build their projects, using the oral histories and their own lived experience of being a part of the school community as a guide.”

Undergraduate history students helped teach the Emerson students how to conduct interviews for the oral histories they collected as part of the project. One of those history students was Lakshmi Sawhney, who enjoyed watching the Emerson students become genuinely interested in discovering the pasts of people within the community. 

“I wanted to be part of a project that empowered young people to discover their own community history, even if that community did not involve me,” Sawhney said. “I wanted to be part of a project that taught students that they are not passive actors in the historical development of their community; but rather that they are active participants in the shaping of history.”

The oral histories that students did with parents, staff and Emerson alumni were recorded and edited into small audio files that were placed in relation to some of the sculptures or other art projects students made as part of the final display of the 100 year celebration.

“It is our hope that as we continue to grow this partnership, more students can become part of the collaboration from both Emerson and ASU, growing our capacity for intergenerational creative partnership,” Walker said.

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