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.

Fun in Fall Classes

Fun in Fall Classes

Though our class offering is only a small part of the self-directed learning we facilitate at Open Doors, we often get questions about what our classes are like.  Here’s a small glimpse of the fun:

Waiting for Film Studies
Teens waiting for Film Studies and chatting … on the board are some Critical Thinking and Feeling notes to ponder as they wait …
Duct Tape Stash
Duct Tape Creations — the stash.
Duct Tape Creations
“Paper” airplanes and boats — made out of duct tape.
Lenny the Party Animal
“Lenny the Party Animal” — an eARTh hEaD class creation, using a recycled pinata.
Box Man
Box Man checks his iPod in Critical Thinking and Feeling class.

Learn more at Monday’s Open House at 12 noon — see you there!

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.

Leah Goldsworthy
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.

How Can Your Teen Claim Her Power? Part I

by Jacob Sabourin

One of the things we love to explore with teens here at Open Doors is how they can reclaim their power.  It begins with some critical thinking about what power is, and how they can access it.

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 begins a critical analysis of power.

A stressed teen tries to access her own power in ways that cause friction with family.

The word poder in Spanish has two meanings when we try to translate it into English:

  1. Power (a noun).
  1. To be able to do something (a verb). Conjugating poder in this way allows a Spanish speaker to say things like “yo puedo,” which means literally, “I can.”

Power as we think of it (as a noun), is a measure of the ability to do something. “What can I do?” is the same question as “What power do I have?”

Resources are the sources of peoples’ power. Money, knowledge, and physical strength are all resources. In this way, money, knowledge, and physical strength are all forms of power.

A good way to begin to understand power dynamics in the world is to ask questions about resource allocation. For example:

  • Who has the most money? How did they get that money? What do they spend it on? How much do they spend?
  • Who has the least money? Why do they have so little money? What do they spend their money on? How much do they spend?
  • Who has the most knowledge? How do they get that knowledge? What are they using that knowledge for?
  • Who has the least knowledge? Why do they have so little knowledge? How do they use their limited knowledge?

    A teen often fears he is the one with the least knowledge and the least power.
  • Who has the most physical strength? How did they get so much physical strength? How do they use their physical strength?
  • Who has the least physical strength? Why do they have so little physical strength? How do they use their limited physical strength?

To ask these questions is to begin to think critically about the world around us. These questions can be applied to the large scale: “Who has the most power on Earth?” or the small scale: “Who has the most power in my classroom?” To be a true critical thinker, one also has to ask, “How much power do I have?” and related questions such as, “Who has power over me?”

Through critical thinking, we become aware of the world, and by extension, ourselves. So, through critical thinking we gain knowledge of a very important kind.  This knowledge allows us to increase our power as individuals.

If everyone were to think critically about the world, we would all be more knowledgeable, and all of us would create a more powerful society. That is, we would be able to do more.

An empowered teen has more tools to face life’s challenges.

In Part II, Jacob will explore how every part of learning can be connected to these questions of power.

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.