An Amazing Partnership

By Rebecca Kirk

2015 – 2016.  What an incredible year of learning and growing.  By April of 2015 we had realized that our space at 1324 Lake Drive was not adequately serving our mission to provide support for self-directed, engaged learning to teens regardless of their ability to pay.  Though we were able to offer some tuition subsidies, a large part of our finances were required to pay rent. We looked high and low for a more affordable space in which the teens could feel free to express themselves creatively without always needing to be mindful of our professional office building neighbors’ desire for quiet, but to no avail.

By summer, some of the teens were meeting with us weekly in area parks to explore the outdoors together and to develop their leadership skills as a Teen Advisory Council for the development of Open Doors, allowing it to become even more youth-directed.

Meanwhile, Maddie, Jacob and I spent many hours exploring foundations for grant possibilities and also ways of collaborating with other teen-centered organizations.  Without having located space nor funding by September, this small, dedicated group of teens and families agreed to meet temporarily in the basement classroom of my home.

One morning in late September, on a whim, I drove to The Geek Group to explore the possibility of affordable meeting space in their large building on west Leonard.  With no appointment, I was miraculously able to immediately obtain an audience with Chris Boden, founding member and President of the organization.  After listening to my story of Open Doors’ mission and principles, along with our current situation, Chris instantly recognized Open doors as the educational arm that had been an unfulfilled piece of The Geek Group’s mission since their beginning, 20+ years ago.  On the spot, he offered Open Doors the option of becoming The Geek Group’s education department and me, this education department’s director.  I must say I was rather bowled over.

We began transitioning into the space at The Geek Group almost immediately and officially became a part of the organization on January 1, 2016.  The longer we are here the more I realize how right Chris was regarding the alignment of our missions.  The Geek Group was established to support and encourage people to learn and express what they are passionate about, regardless of their financial situation.  They do that primarily for adults.  Now we are here to offer that to teens.  Open Doors is indeed extremely fortunate to be an integral part of this unique organization. Please explore The Geek Group’s website and like them on Facebook. And then stop by on a Saturday at noon for a free tour of the building and see what mad science you yourself can be up to!

I’m also very grateful that our teens were willing to make this huge transition with us. It was a valuable, real-life learning experience for all, requiring adaptability, creativity, and the development of social/emotional skills as we interfaced with this new culture.

Beginning in January, the stability of our new location allowed superb opportunities for learning.  Within this stable environment, with the input of the Teen Advisory Council, new learning adventures began to emerge.  These included Cooking Club, Big History, Kinder Being, Career Exploration, and Art Studio.  Independent projects developed, such as Animation Exploration, Giant Skateboard Creation, and Dirt Bike Maintenance, while tutoring was employed in learning Algebra and Biology.  The teen-directed year-end trip to Chicago was a crowning jewel to our year of learning and exploring new horizons.

Our adoption into The Geek Group has provided accommodations, overhead, incredible physical and human resources, and tremendous encouragement to pursue our mission.  This has freed us to more fully develop our program offerings, structure, and advisory role. As a result we have seen remarkable learning happening with our teens including:

  • Teens learning and fully engaged together in what they wanted to learn
  • A visible increase in social/emotional intelligence, and
  • Critical thinking skills
  • A huge increase in self-confidence and ability to openly express their thoughts and ideas.

In addition, instead of paying rent, we were able to use Open Doors funds to hire Jacob Sabourin full time as assistant director and to send him to Massachusetts for the annual Liberated Learners Conference resulting in empowering professional development.

Thank you so much to Chris Boden and The Geek Group for providing all your support which made this possible.

Open Doors Introduces The Geek Group

By Jacob Sabourin

Things are changing fast at Open Doors. It’s a good thing.

 

In our last blog post this summer, “The Future of Open Doors,” Maddie and I detailed our two-year progression from an upstart homeschool resource center to a Youth-Driven Space. We are now proud to announce the next phase of Open Doors’ existence: our absorption into The Geek Group.

 

The Geek Group is a non-profit educational organization based in Grand Rapids with more than 26,000 members worldwide. It is the largest non-profit makerspace in the world. Moving forward, we will function as a department of The Geek Group out of their makerspace located at 902 Leonard St. NW. For more information about The Geek Group, visit their website at thegeekgroup.org.

 

So what’s great about this move?

  • Open Doors will function exactly as it always has. We will continue to provide teens the opportunity to self-direct their own learning, work on their own projects, build a community amongst themselves, and make impactful decisions within that community.

 

  • Teens at Open Doors have a new space to make their home-away-from-home. And it is cool. Instead of an office building, teens will now have room to make messes, explore a labyrinth of rooms teeming with robots, 3-D printers, pool and air hockey tables, art and music studios, and Tesla coils. Open Doors itself will be based out of an old chemistry lab in the building.

 

  • Our teens will have access to a whole slew of human resources at The Geek Group. This includes the entire 26,000-plus member base, of all ages and demographics, who are all working on their own projects and have their own areas of expertise. Some Geek Group staff members have already begun classes with our teens in animation and creative writing. The possibilities for further connections within The Geek Group community have only just peeked over the horizon.

 

  • Open Doors teens are currently working on a project called Kinder Being, an effort to bring diversity and anti-bullying education to elementary and middle schoolers in Grand Rapids. The Geek Group is already providing an outlet for their ideas.

 

In short, the move to the Geek Group will provide teens a heretofore unseen opportunity to get messy, make mistakes, use their imaginations, and grow as learners and people. We are excited to begin this new chapter in our quest to provide a new kind of space for teen learning and community in Grand Rapids.

 

If you have any questions regarding The Geek Group or any other changes happening at Open Doors, feel free to email Jacob at Jacob@opendoorsforteens.org or Rebecca at Rebecca@opendoorsforteens.org.

The Future of Open Doors

Written by Jacob Sabourin & Madison Werley

Open Doors is facing some changes in the near future. Big, exciting, and perhaps overwhelming changes.

At the end of Spring Session this year, our lease at the Carlton Building was up, and it was time to make a decision whether or not to renew it. After much discussion we decided to start the search for a fresh space for Open Doors to call home. In the midst of our search, we received disappointing news: a grant we had been hoping to receive had been declined. Our financial situation was looking bleak.

The same day, Rebecca received an email from the Neutral Zone, a teen center in Ann Arbor. Their video below left us with goosebumps, and we realized Open Doors had the opportunity to serve teens in ways we had yet to fully realize.

So we visited the Neutral Zone, and witnessed their Youth-Driven Spaces model in action. We saw the incredible and impressive things the teens there are up to, and their pre-established model inspired us to develop a similar culture that would work for our own teen members. We spent the next few weeks working alongside our current teens to devise a plan for the future of Open Doors. Our conditions?

  • Be inclusive of teens of all backgrounds, whether they attend school or not.
  • Keep our mission of improving the lives of self-directed teens in Grand Rapids.
  • Give our members the power to create innovative programs of their own choosing.
  • Allow teens and adult staff to work together to make decisions on behalf of Open Doors.

We believe these changes will benefit the Grand Rapids community in ways heretofore unimaginable. By extending our services into after-school hours and flinging wide the doors to teens of all backgrounds, we will give them a safe, empowering place to call their own. We will be providing a youth community center, created and led by teens, for all teens.

This summer, Open Doors staff will attend a training session at the Neutral Zone on how to effectively create a Teen Advisory Council. We hope to establish our own Council to meet weekly throughout the summer to develop Open Doors into the kind of space teens in our area both want and need. Our current members decided they would like to spend these casual meetings around campfires, trekking through the forest, and otherwise adventurously traipsing.

Are you or a teen you know interested in joining us on our adventures to create an awesome space for Grand Rapids teens? We could use your input! Contact our Program Director, Jacob Sabourin, for more information or to get involved.

If you’re passionate about our mission and what we’re doing, you can also assist Open Doors through monetary donations, volunteering your time, or offering in-kind gifts for our space. Every bit helps!

Thank you for your continued support, and make sure to check back often to stay up-to-date on our progress.

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Setting the Feet on the Pathway

Amy Carpenter Leugs is a former teacher and a children’s book author who serves on the Board of Directors at Open Doors.  She and her husband have three sons who live and learn at home, not at school.  The family started their self-directed learning journey in 2003.  The post below is re-written from a 2004 essay by the same name, which can be read in its original form here:  https://www.catapultmagazine.com/pass-fail/article/setting-the-feet-on

by Amy Carpenter Leugs

The Winnebago, one of the Algonquian tribes of the Great Lakes, tell a certain set of stories to their children, often in a specific order, at certain times of the year. Each story serves to build a sense of self in the child, as well as providing him or her a solid grounding in tradition. The Winnebago call this “setting the feet on the pathway.”

These stories are considered their childhood teachings, but they are not taught by experts in a classroom, separate from the rest of life. Instead, these stories are woven in and around the interactions of daily lives, the work of survival, and the rituals that bind the tribe together.

On the other hand, Aleut boys would play with small dolls in kayaks, while the girls learned many tasks of everyday life by playing with their dolls, clothed in squirrel furs that the girls had trapped themselves.

And in still a different example, Inupiat fathers created story knives for their little girls, usually carved out of bone or ivory. The girl would learn to tell stories from the women of her family, and she would use her knife to illustrate the tales, drawing symbols and pictures in the snow or sand or mud. One text compares the story knife to art therapy, a valuable tool for processing troubling fears and for exploring curious dreams, all while playing.

I share these different perspectives to make a point:  there is no one right way to raise a child, no one right way to grow up.   Over millennia, hundreds of cultures have found many right ways to interact with children and teens.  But our culture has often behaved as though there were only one right way, as though we needed to control all aspects of our children’s behavior, so they, in turn, will follow the one right way.

Amy and her three sons have chosen self-directed learning.
Amy and her three sons chose the path of self-directed learning.

If we accept that there isn’t one right way to educate a child – if we accept that a classroom and textbooks and a teacher up front isn’t the only way to learn – how do we know what to do?

This is where self-directed learning comes in.  In a safe environment, with time, the child herself will know what to do – organically and naturally, by following what she loves, by pursuing her interests, by doing the things that make her shine.  She may, like all children, feel bored or unsure at times, but she will find it empowering to find her own way through, with support from adults and other teens.

This is the decision my family made eleven years ago, and we have never looked back.

We talk a lot about testing in schools these days.  But it can be argued that fashioning a self is the most important test that any of us will ever endure. It is an on-going test, and the signs of negotiating it successfully are recognizable: being a whole man or woman means being capable, aware of one’s own gifts, and involved in a community, acting as both student and teacher, giver and receiver. Creating a whole self is not a matter of pouring rules and facts onto a person, like paint on a canvas. Self-discovery is more like sculpture, continually carving and defining the most compelling features, waiting for the shape to reveal itself. Discovering a self requires free time, privacy, and a lot of room to make one’s own mistakes.   It requires interactions with adults who are not trying to control, but who are willing to listen and share their own experiences.

Because Amy's sons learn at home, they have more time to pursue their passions.
Amy’s sons learn out of the classroom and in the real world while pursuing their passions.

Outside of sleep, school and extracurricular activities, the average schoolchild has only 9 hours a week left in which to fashion a self.   It’s not enough.  This is why self-directed learning is such a powerful option – an option that naturally allows for diversity, an option that encourages teens to grow into curious and whole adults with a true sense of themselves.  I see it in my three sons every day, and I see it in the teens at Open Doors.

As Helen Hegener writes, “For better or worse, we learn every day, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re with. We learn good things, useful things, handy things — and we learn bad things, destructive things, things we might someday wish we hadn’t learned. Life’s like that. On the whole, though, learning serves us quite well, and we’re constantly arranging and rearranging our learning so it’s more useful to us.” 

And as Carl Rogers writes, “If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning.”

Many parents and teens have no idea how to start on this journey themselves.  That’s where Open Doors can help, with mentoring, classes, and community for support.

This post is part of our “Our Stories” series, which aims to explore the personal experiences and journeys of Open Doors’ members and staff, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

What is keeping my teen from learning?

What is keeping my teen from learning?

“We teachers – perhaps all human beings – are in the grip of an astonishing delusion.”

Our astonishing delusion about education.

“We think that we can take a picture, a structure, a working model of something, constructed in our minds out of long experience and familiarity, and by turning that model into a string of words, transplant it whole into the mind of someone else.”

Trying to implant our knowledge in the brain of another.

“Perhaps once in a thousand times, when the explanation is extraordinary good, and the listener extraordinarily experienced and skillful at turning word strings into non-verbal reality, and when the explainer and listener share in common many of the experiences being talked about, the process may work, and some real meaning may be communicated.”

It’s easier to share knowledge when you’re in close relationship with a lot of non-verbal sharing.

“Most of the time, explaining does not increase understanding, and may even lessen it.”

– John Holt, (1923-1985) American Educator,  in How Children Learn

The more impersonal and disconnected the relationship, the harder it is to share knowledge.
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Open Doors teens at the beach — because sharing real life experiences leads to sharing real life knowledge. (And it’s fun!)

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.  If your teen isn’t learning in the classroom, come find out more at our Open House on Monday, October 13 at 12 noon.

How Can Your Teen Claim Her Power? Part II

by Jacob Saborin

Our Open Doors Intern, Jacob Sabourin, has worked closely with struggling students at Aquinas College here in Grand Rapids.  He is a Political Science major with a keen interest in the politics of power.  At Open Doors, he offers a class called Powerful Possibilities.  Here he continues his critical analysis of power.

In Part I, Jacob explored how teens can reclaim their power.  It begins with some critical thinking about what power is, and how they can access it.  Here he explores how critical thinking can be integrated into every part of education — connected in the same way the real world (outside of the classroom) is connected.

Think you know what a strawberry is? Let’s look at that.

Usually we can speak the word from an early age, and we know what it means. It’s a strawberry. It’s red. It has seeds. We can taste that it’s sweet and tart. The green parts are less sweet. We learn these things on our own, before schooling even begins.

Then we enter school. We learn to spell. S-T-R-A-W-B-E-R-R-Y. We write it ad nauseum to practice for a spelling test. Second grade, probably. We copy the definition out of the dictionary. A fruit, hollow on the inside. Things we pretty much knew already from eating a fruit salad at home a couple times a week. But we sure got that spelling thing down, anyway.

Spelling test — no “strawberry” though.

Sixth grade we start talking about various countries’ imports and exports. We might imagine crates of strawberries stacked between rows of pineapples and melons on a boat sailing from Brazil (which we recently learned is in South America) to the U.S.A., relayed onto a truck, and driven to the supermarket. We wrote down and presented those lists of imports and exports on a poster and read them to the class for our presentation. Strawberries were grouped in the category “fruits and vegetables.”

In high school we probably took a class on economics that said all prices are determined by supply and demand in our advanced capitalistic free market system. More people demand strawberries, the supply goes down, and the price goes up. Or vice versa.

And that’s what we learn in school about strawberries. What else is there to learn?

First off, the connections and relationship between the linguistic roots of strawberries (explored cursorily in second grade), the geography (hardly glanced over in sixth grade), and the economics (oversimplified and propagandized in eleventh grade) were never explored. The social and political aspects of strawberry-related agriculture were never mentioned. In essence, through schooling we never understand how a strawberry actually affects our lives.

Strawberry farm worker from Florida

What if we learned about strawberries in a different way?

If I were to visit a strawberry farm on Michigan’s western shore, I could ask the farmer why his strawberries grow there because I read on my plastic supermarket package of berries that they were from Mexico and usually the fruit says it comes from a Latin American country. A conversation like this might ensue:

Farmer: “Well, the soil’s pretty decent in the southern part of Michigan because three hundred years ago the land was almost entirely covered in oak trees, which died or were bulldozed and left good nutrients in the ground for plants to grow.”

Me: “So good soil makes good strawberries?”

Farmer: “It helps. It’s hard to grow on poor soils like in the Upper Peninsula where the pine trees leave the ground all acidic. But the biggest reason there’s so much fruit grown in western Michigan is because Lake Michigan keeps the growing season longer than in other places.”

Me: “How does the lake keep the growing season longer?”

Farmer: “The growing season is between the last frost of spring and the first frost of autumn. Water has a very high specific heat, which means it takes a long time to heat up and a long time to cool. Much longer than land. So in autumn when the ground in most places starts to get cold, the lake is still warm, and it keeps the plants from frosting over and ruining the fruit. Plus, the lake keeps the temperatures predictable in spring, so we know just when to plant the seeds to make sure they won’t frost after we plant them. The lake being so warm in winter is also the reason we have lake-effect snow.”

Me: “Oh, that’s cool. A couple years ago I heard there was a problem with fruit growing or something. All the fruit was expensive and I couldn’t find any local fruit.”

Farmer: “Yes, the prices went up because massive amounts of our crops died because there was a sudden frost weeks after we planted in the spring.

Misshapen berries resulting from blooms which were partially damaged by frost.

Farmer: “I lost all my money and had to get a loan and go into enormous amounts of debt, and now I can’t afford to eat anything but rice, beans, and the food I grow myself. Weather anomalies like that are getting more common because of global climate change caused by the unchecked industrial development of the human race, and it could cause a lot more disasters, food shortages, famines, and economic collapses. Also all of those things tend to incite war.”

Me: “So what you’re saying is, you think we’re all going to lose our jobs and starve if we continue to destroy the planet?”

Farmer: “Well, let’s not look at it in such a grim light. That’s not going to happen to all of us.”

It may seem like I’m drifting off-topic at this point in the conversation. But I’m not. This imaginary conversation just covered geomorphology, geography, climatology and weather, politics, sociology, and economics. And the entire conversation was, at its core, about strawberries. And the entire conversation related to the everyday lives of the people involved: the news stories we hear on the radio or television, our financial struggles, the food we eat, the weather we trudge through, and our seemingly mundane conversations at home.

The youth at Open Doors often want to think critically, on an advanced level, so that someday they can have these sorts of conversations and not feel totally unaware.  If teens want to access their power, they can start by understanding how connected the world is, and how their choices — in what they purchase and how they treat the environment, for instance — can have a powerful effect on the world.

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A teen connecting creative choices with the natural world during the Open Doors Summer Program.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Open House: What is Self-Directed Learning for Teens?

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We help families reclaim the joy of learning — our teens are taking back their educations, building skills and self-confidence, and learning who they are and what they have to offer the world.  

How does it work? Come talk to us!  Have a tour of Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens, look over the current class schedule, and ask all your questions. See you there!

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 12 noon

1324 Lake Drive in Grand Rapids, MI 49506

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Open House: Learn About a Self-Directed Education

Open House

Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

7:00 p.m.

1324 Lake Drive, Suite #1, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Have you been wondering what we do at Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens?  Come find out!

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A community gathering at Open Doors.

Open House

Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

7:00 p.m.

1324 Lake Drive, Suite #1, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

We’ll give you a tour, answer your questions, and talk about the upcoming fall semester.  Are there some classes your teen would like to see offered?  Let’s see what we can do!

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Need to get your hands into your learning? Here’s our hands-on dissection class from last year.
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Want to get outside and learn in the real world? Our Wild Edibles class last year foraged foods to share!
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If you learn from video games, we can support that, too!

See you at the Open House!

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Fall 2014 at Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens

Dear Friends of Open Doors:

It’s been a busy summer here at Open Doors.  With your support, we’ve offered a fun summer art program to some very deserving teens and sparked their creativity. Thank you!

Maria Goldsworthy
Art with Nature — part of our Summer Program

We’ve also been gearing up for our Fall semester — it’s Not Back to School time!

We’ll have new incoming members this fall, so we’re lining up member-requested classes like Mechanical Autopsy and Duct Tape Art.  

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Duct Tape Fun!

Our popular Critical Thinking and Feeling class is set to continue, with its emphasis on fun and non-violent communication, led by Adena Koslek.

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Teen Instructor and Coach, Adena Koslek

 

We’ll also continue our Film Studies class, led by local director and film enthusiast Bruce W.

Bruce and kids on Brick
Bruce, with popcorn, watching the movie Brick with the teens last year.

We’re also offering new classes like Japanese, Political Science, and Hands-On Algebra.

Of course, Open Doors teens choose which classes they’ll take (and whether they’ll take any at all), so the list will change as the semester gets closer.

As you know, classes are only a small part of what we do here at Open Doors.  We look forward to checking in with each and every teen member.  We’ll listen to their goals and questions — we’ll dream with them as they consider how they want to learn at this moment — we’ll laugh as we brainstorm options and imagine possibilities together.  We can’t wait!

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We are literally doing back flips. Well, one of us is.
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So excited!

Will you help us spread the word?  Share this article, come by for one of our new yard signs, tell your friends with teens about Open Doors, or join our team of volunteers — we’d love to have you involved!

Enjoy the rest of your summer ~

Amy Carpenter Leugs, Outreach Director

Amy and tree
Amy Carpenter Leugs

Slender: The Short Film

It’s here!

Hot on the heels of the world premiere (an intimate screening with family and friends in Eastown at our Festive Finale 2014), the teens at Open Doors now present the Internet debut of Slender:  The Short Film.  

You can read about the history of this Slender project, and about the process along the way.  You can also read our thoughts and concerns associated with the Wisconsin stabbing incident on May 30.

We couldn’t be more pleased with this project and the fun and learning it brought about.   It’s a great example of self-directed learning in action, and it’s what we’re all about here at Open Doors.