Grantee Spotlight: Salvadori Center

There’s the hit-the-books way to encourage young people to develop appreciation for math and science—and then there is the Salvadori way.

Founded by Mario Salvadori in 1987, the Salvadori Center gives students tools to unlock math and science not in the abstract but as it is manifest in the structures all around them. In a more concentrated way than other STEAM programs, the goal is to inspire both students and teachers to draw inspiration from the wondrous logic and beauty of the built world and use it as a foundation for learning. Thousands of students understand how buildings stand up, how bridges carry weight and how they can solve problems using that practical knowledge.

Executive director Kenneth Jones recalled the origin story of Salvadori, a prominent civil engineer, attending a meeting with the New York Academy of Sciences. “They were talking about how to improve the teaching of math, science and the arts in middle school,” Jones says. “He said, ‘Architecture and engineering is all around these kids. It’s in the buildings and parks they enter, and the bridges they cross.’”

Students learn about architecture at the Salvadori Center
In Salvadori’s Skyscrapers curriculum, students identify the characteristics that make urban buildings unique. Here, students are learning about how beams and columns provide structural stability. Photo by Stephanie Tumbaga.

The testimonials have rolled in since the programs have rolled out. Valerie Sawinski, principal of JHS 185 in Queens, N.Y., said 94% of students hit levels 3 and 4 (the two highest) in the New York State assessment test. “The Salvadori experience helped our students learn and practice important math skills while they were engaged in exciting and fun-filled, hands-on activities.”

A NYSCA grantee through our Arts Education and Architecture + Design Programs, the New York City-based center focuses on three main principles: engaging through project-based exercises, using the built environment to show the relevance of math and science, and promoting collaborative and all-inclusive solutions.

Through a range of multi-day in-school and after-school programs, the Center enables every child to succeed and equips teachers with curriculae linked with Common Core math standards, Next Generation science standards and grade-specific learning objectives.

Students learn about architecture at the Salvadori Center
Students learn about the differences between an arch, a truss, and a suspension, and the forces that act on them, in Bridges. These students are building a suspension bridge. Photo by Stephanie Tumbaga.

Salvadori teaches students to design community-based monuments and memorials for a specific purpose, and to consider all of the decisions that go into such a project.

“If I’m designing a monument, it could be about celebration, tragedy, communing,” Jones says. “What material is it? Is it shiny, metallic, cold, soft, organic, reflective? Something to touch and feel warm?” Encouraging kids to think about all of the social, psychological and cultural aspects of design, Jones adds, “is what arts education is all about.”

—Dade Hayes

Cover image: Each June, the Salvadori Annual Student Design Charrette brings together 100 students from schools all over the city to participate in an all-day design challenge. This year, they designed, built, and tested the Rube Goldberg, a new roller coaster ride at Luna Park in Coney Island. Photo by John Lisbon.