A Summer of Making

Dale Doughtery with the Project Make class.

When I recently visited a middle school in Santa Rosa, Calif., I saw no students. None. I learned it was the week for standardized testing. the library and playground were empty. The school was designed for 1,100 students and now serves only 300; 85% of them are low income. If parents can afford it, they apply for a transfer to a better school. These are the children left behind.

Previously, I met with the school board and superintendent to talk about ways to introduce making into schools. An assistant superintendent suggested that this middle school was a good place to start, and that we could make a difference by start- ing with a maker-themed summer camp, working with the local Boys & Girls Club. For all kids, time spent outside of school is as important, if not more so, than time inside school. Some kids have perfect summers filled with engaging activities and family trips. They even get to spend weeks at incredible summer camps. Other kids aren’t so lucky and don’t have enough to do. Experts believe that summer is a period when disadvan- taged kids give up some of the gains made during the school year. They start the next year behind.

Back at the deserted school, the principal gave us a tour to find a space for the summer camp. She showed us a few uninspiring classrooms with no windows; a science lab that doubled as a Spanish classroom; a music room no longer in use, even though old instruments were in view. We found a room that read “Wood Shop” on the door, but I stepped inside to find exercise equip- ment for phys ed class. The next room said “Metal Shop” and was mostly empty, except for a storage area with some old machines still hanging around.

I knew right away this would be a perfect space for kids. The Boys & Girls Club director asked if we could paint the room. “You can do any- thing you want,” the principal said. Excellent, I thought, a project for the kids. She encouraged us to create a makerspace that could be used not just this summer, but during the school year too. “These kids need it,” she explained. “They need to play. They need opportunities to create.”

As we talked about the program, I warned everyone that it could be messy — we didn’t necessarily know everything but I was pretty sure the kids would have a lot of fun. I recalled the silk-screening project in our lab and suggested that the summer camp could start off by inviting the kids to make their own camp T-shirts.

“I’m so happy you care about this school and its kids,” the principal said. It was her birthday, and she said she would consider the summer camp a birthday present.

When I returned to our office, I saw galleys of this “Best Summer Ever” issue, our first devoted to kids. I realized we had already done a lot of the hard work of selecting great projects for kids. The timing was perfect, I thought. We’ll use it as a guide for the summer camp.

Later the same day, I was on a call with this issue’s cover girl, Super Awesome Sylvia, and her dad. I told her about the summer camp and asked if she’d visit and do some fun projects with the kids. They’ll have seen her on the cover, so I’m sure it would mean a lot to them to meet her. Sylvia’s father said she was beaming. So was I.

This special issue provides all you need for a summer of making in your own community. Just add kids, even some who aren’t yours. It’s going to be a bit messy but lots of fun. Send me some pictures or a video. Extra credit for 3D.

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