Parts and Crafts at Somerville Public Schools
Our program: During the school year, we run classes, workshops, afterschool programs, and drop-in open-shop time as well as daytime programs for homeschoolers. We also run summer and school-vacation-week camps for kids ages 7-13, which last year served 50-60 kids a week. Core staff consists of six people who work year-round, plus a range of guest artists and summer staff; combined programs serve roughly 300 kids each year, most of whom live locally in Somerville. Everything runs on a sliding scale from free to expensive, with full-price participants directly subsidizing those who are paying less for our programs.
Limitations to sliding scale: The sliding scale model works well in keeping our programs affordable to our current constituency and keeping our staff paid, but it doesn’t work as well helping us do outreach to underserved communities. Being committed to affordability for middle-class families means that our profit margins are razor-thin — our staff are highly qualified educators who make just above minimum wage doing what we do. At the same time, working on a private model means that we miss a number of kids and families who would likely get a lot out of our programs who could most benefit from the sliding scale and scholarship options that we offer. Being place-based means that there are invariably kids we don’t reach, and charging money for programs means that there are some families who will never consider us an option for their kids, no matter how much we lower the cost margin on our end.
Our goal: Eight schools, eight workshops: There are seven public K-8 schools and one charter school in the Somerville area: the Healey, the Brown, Argenziano, WSNS, Winter Hill Innovation School, ESCS, the JFK school, and Prospect Hill Academy. Our goal, over the next six months, is to run one five-session workshop in each of these schools, aimed at kids age 7-13 to teach hands-on science, engineering, and technology. Teachers and administrators who are interested in this program can choose between one of three possible tracks: 1) Scratch intensive / intro to programming; 2) Environmental monitoring with the Public Lab; 3) Lights, sounds, motors: Intro to analog electronics through open project design, to be run either as a five-session class or as five consecutive one-off workshops.
These are core programs that we run regularly in our own programs that cover topics not commonly offered in the K-8 curriculum: computer programming, hardware design, environmental monitoring, and hands-on exploration of electronics through open hacking type programs. Each workshop would include a 1.5 hour consultation with the teacher to encourage further exploration after the workshop. The workshops would be offered free of charge, with individual workshops scheduled as soon as funding is secured for that location.
Our experience has been that it is quite hard to schedule workshops before funding is in place, but that once the workshops are funded and paid for it is quite easy to set up whatever organization is necessary to make these happen in a relatively quick timescale; by funding them upfront on a community-based model, we hope to streamline the process so that we can set up the workshops get on to making stuff with kids!
- January-March – Fundraising drive! This is the part where we really need your help. Talk to your friends, dig the change out of your couch, and help us come up with the funding to make this program possible! As soon as we secure funding, we’ll go ahead and set up the workshops!
- February – Nuts and bolts: Identify a local partner in each school (might be individual science teachers, school administrators, parent groups, community partners like the Boys and Girls club, etc). If we can’t schedule it for spring, we’ll go ahead and put it on the docket for fall semester and start to schedule workshops.
- March – April – May – June – Run those workshops! As soon as we secure the first $2,000 we will go ahead and start scheduling workshops. We’ll spend three months building stuff in schools, with any workshops we can’t schedule getting bumped to the first month in September.
TOTAL PROJECT DURATION: 1-2 semesters
METRICS OF SUCCESS: Successful funding of all eight schools, spanning the socioeconomic breadth of Somerville and offering competitive programs in each of the schools previously mentioned. Kids and teachers excited about the projects and interested in scheduling future workshops. Cool stuff made.
why we’re doing it
Somerville is a diverse community with a large and growing creative sector. Many of our members, our staff, and our parents are either employed themselves as independent artists, builders, and tinkerers, or work with organizations like Brickbottom, Vernon Street Studios, Artisan’s Asylum, and Parts and Crafts. Collectively, we all contribute a great deal to a positive culture of making, building, hacking, and tinkering, all of which makes Somerville a pretty great place to live! We also raise the standard of living and accelerate development in the area — a point which, for our part, is solidly reflected in the demographics of the kids we currently work with and the families who regularly seek out our programs.
We can’t change who we are, but we can change where we work. This fundraiser is a challenge to our own community to put our money to work in making these programs available to kids across Somerville, and to start building connections with schools, teachers, and administrators that make up the fabric of our educational community. This initiative will allow us to reach a wider and more diverse group of kids, bringing creative science and technology programs into classrooms across the city. Likewise, it will allow us to start building relationships with teachers and schools that will hopefully establish the groundwork for long-term in-school collaboration.
“But why don’t you just volunteer to do it on your own?” We’re a small organization — if we volunteered the scope that we’re proposing here, it would put a major dent in our yearly budget for materials costs alone. We love what we do and we spend a lot of our time and energy trying to keep our programs affordable for you — we hope, in turn, you will help us do this for other people! If our programs have made a difference for your family in any way, please consider contributing some dollars to help bring these into the public school system in Somerville!