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New Wheeler School Academic Program to be located at the WaterFire Arts Center

The Wheeler School and WaterFire Providence have agreed to locate a new program for Wheeler 8th graders called Cityside to a new classroom space inside the WaterFire Arts Center.

Starting in fall 2019, Wheeler will expand its campus and curriculum for 8th-grade students with its new Cityside program — a year-long interdisciplinary experience that extends and expands learning within the City of Providence. The new program is embedded in Providence’s 25 neighborhoods, working with various NGOs, non-profit organizations, community groups, and branches of government to provide a rich curriculum for project-based learning, inquiry, and research. Wheeler Cityside supports students in their exploration of interests as they form meaningful partnerships with collaborating organizations including WaterFire Providence, as well as other Providence artists, activists, local business owners, environmental experts and city officials, to develop projects of relevance to the student, to create value for the community, and to leave a positive impact on the city and student. (See the list of Providence organizations already committed to the new program below.)

A cornerstone of the new program is the length of time students are given for exploration into topics and areas of interest. Students devote 4-hour-long blocks of time per week using the city as campus, alongside a support system of community leaders and Wheeler faculty to develop collaborative project ideas, as well as ask “big questions” such as “What are my duties as a global and local citizen and how can familiarity with place help fulfill those duties?” “What temperament and skills are vital in order to flourish in a rapidly changing world?”

As they begin to realize their role as student-citizens, students will navigate resources, identify and seek to solve the challenges they identify and learn the dynamics required for the growth and health of a community.  “Home base” for Cityside students when off campus will be the new Cityside Studio at the WaterFire Arts Center.

“The staff and board of WaterFire Providence could not be more excited that the WaterFire Arts Center will be the “home base” for The Wheeler School’s new 8th-grade Cityside program,” said Peter A. Mello, managing director/coCEO. “This innovative educational program will take place across Providence’s 25 neighborhoods serving a wide variety of organizations and will create powerful learning experiences for students in the process. We look forward to not only hosting Cityside but also actively engaging with students throughout the year as they develop an interdisciplinary understanding of the people and places of Providence.”

In announcing the Wheeler/WaterFire classroom, Allison Gaines Pell, Head of Wheeler School, said, “When we began speaking about this collaboration, the mutual excitement was palpable. WaterFire and Wheeler are both committed to exciting, engaging and provoking the region’s young people to look at new ideas, see the world from other perspectives, and use their strengths to find and solve problems in our communities. We know this is part of a great education in a dynamic city. We’re delighted to extend where and how learning happens with this new partnership.”

To read more about the new Wheeler program, visit

About WaterFire Providence
WaterFire Providence® is an independent, 501(c)3 non-profit arts organization whose mission is to inspire Providence and its visitors by revitalizing the urban experience, fostering community engagement and creatively transforming the city by presenting WaterFire for all to enjoy.

About the WaterFire Arts Center
WaterFire Providence purchased the Art Center in 2012 and began rehabilitation for the vacant, historic, industrial building in the underserved Olneyville/Valley neighborhood of Providence. The 37,000 sq. ft. the multi-use arts center has become WaterFire’s first permanent home in the community and serves as its headquarters, production complex, and a multi-purpose arts venue as well as a social enterprise platform strengthening the organization’s long-term financial sustainability.  Exhibitions presented at WaterFire Arts Center will further the organization’s agenda of providing arts and culture opportunities and experiences for all, regardless of social, cultural, or economic background. For more information about the WaterFire Arts Center including rental inquiries, please visit:

Wheeler Cityside already has many community affiliations. Here are a few of the organizations we are developing programs with for the fall of 2019. If you are interested in knowing more about Wheeler Cityside, please contact Joe Baer, Cityside Director, at The Wheeler School,

Wheeler Cityside affiliations
The Avenue Concept
Big Nazo
Jane’s Walk
The Providence After School Alliance (PASA)
The City of Providence Department of Parks
The City of Providence Recreation Department
The City of Providence Office of Sustainability
The Providence Public Library
RI Museum of Science and Art
RI State Council on the Arts
The Steelyard
WaterFire Providence

Above photo caption & credit: Wheeler students practice taking water samples from the Providence River with braziers from WaterFire Providence in the background.  Photo by Tim Llewellyn, Copper Hound Pictures.

About the author

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Over the last 10+ years, alongside some incredible co-workers and volunteers, I've worked to build the organization that WaterFire Providence is today. As Director of Creative Services, my team and I work on visual communications, graphic design, the visitor experience, merchandising as well as project management for programming at the WaterFire Arts Center. Being a part of the 'Rhode Island' experience for tens of thousands of people is incredible and I have an intense pride in place for both Downtown Providence and the Valley neighborhood.

2 thoughts on “New Wheeler School Academic Program to be located at the WaterFire Arts Center”

  1. Why is the Waterfire Arts Center providing a program for the already privileged students of the Wheeler School? What kind of community alliance is that? Support the public schools!

    1. Hi Jean, thanks for raising this subject and sorry for the delay in our response. We wanted to ensure that we were you giving the most complete view of our educational programming initiatives as possible.

      The WaterFire Arts Center serves as WaterFire Providence’s home (offices and production shop) as well as a multi-purpose space. The space is available to rent for many different nonprofit organizations, companies, schools and other community members. For our new partnership with Wheeler School, the WaterFire Arts Center is planned as the “home base” for their new Cityside program, they have rented a part of our open office space to transform into a classroom. We’ve previously partnered with CareerDevs’ IntraCity Geeks program which is a year-long, full-stack program for students looking to kickstart their careers in computer science; that program expanded so successfully that they’ve moved into a larger space. Wheeler School is in a lease agreement, where they pay rent for their use of the classroom space and WaterFire acts as their landlord. The Cityside program isn’t being provided by WaterFire Providence, it’s a program that the Wheeler School has designed and is managing independently. The main goal of this program is for 8th graders to go out into Providence’s 25 neighborhoods and interact with various NGOs, non-profit organizations, community groups, and branches of government to provide a rich curriculum for project-based learning, inquiry, and research. You can find more info about the Cityside Program on the Wheeler School website.

      There have been many different educational programs that WaterFire Providence has worked in partnership with over the years and most recently in moving to the WaterFire Arts Center, which has opened us up to more opportunities to host students and programs. For example, we have a longstanding partnership with the Davies Career and Technical High School Hospitality program for internships, also there are two partnerships with the Providence Career and Technical Academy High School for work-based learning internships with the Automotive Service and the Maritime Welding and Pipe Fitting programs. We are also active partners with the PrepareRI summer internship program which lead us into our partnership with the Regional Career and Technical Center at Coventry High School. We are looking to keep expanding with different schools around the area and explore different programs and projects that we can work with the larger student base public and private.

      Here are some photos of students from the Providence Career and Technical Academy working on projects in the WaterFire Arts Center.

      I hope we have addressed your concerns. We’re happy to answer any additional questions. We are working on including additional documentation on website about our educational programming and how students from all across the state can get involved.

      Warmest regards, Tim

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