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.


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