In the Maker Movement, CYC is Moving on Up



3-D printed drones flying overhead. Synth music blasting from hand-made instruments. Giant red robots walking around Queens.Should you find yourself in this setting, there’s no other place you could be but the World Maker Faire in New York, a celebration of the maker movement and gathering of thousands of the world’s brightest engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and makers.

CYC’s STEAM Team—Tina Ayala, Director of Program and Operations-School Age and Teens; Steven Willis, STEM Program Manager; and Monica Wizgird, Arts and Innovation Coordinator—first ventured to the Maker Faire in the fall of 2015, when CYC’s first Maker Lab was a mere three months old, to gather ideas for our growing lab. One year, and two additional labs later, they were back, this time as expert presenters on the “Make: Education” stage, sharing their experience with an audience of more than sixty educators. Their presentation, “The Maker Gap: How Chicago Youth Centers’ Maker Labs Bridge the Achievement Gap and Prepare Children for Success” focused on how the maker movement can help children from underserved communities develop critical 21st-century skills.“At CYC we realized our children faced critical gaps at school and at home caused by persistent poverty,” Steven explained during the talk. “They didn’t have the opportunity to see themselves as makers, innovators, artists, and influencers. This is what CYC calls the maker gap. We created our Maker Lab program to bridge this gap.”

CYC students present their project at the Southside Mini Maker Faire, August 6, 2016

Steven, Tina, and Monica shared how they secured funding, built the labs, and chose machines with a project-based and student-driven model in mind. They also shared how they integrated STEM subjects with arts learning and applied skills development to set children up for success in a 21st century economy. They ended the presentation with stories of student achievement, like how CYC student Alainia excelled at science despite not having a science teacher at school for several months. (Read Alainia’s story here.)

To say the audience was receptive would be an understatement. “The hunger in the audience for programs like ours was inspiring,” explained Tina. “CYC is ahead of the curve when it comes to leveraging the maker movement for education in urban environments. While there are other maker labs in Chicago, ours is the only one where children can create daily in their own neighborhoods. It was a privilege to share what we’ve learned and help grow this movement.”

While the STEAM team spent the summer preparing for the World Maker Faire, students in the Summer Enrichment Program at CYC-Elliott Donnelley Youth Center in Bronzeville were preparing for the Southside Mini Maker Faire, a regional event celebrating Chicago Southside makers. Our students spent the summer studying electricity and tinkering with circuitry in our Maker Labs, and in August they presented their “squishy circuits” project at the Southside Mini Maker Faire as one of 35 exhibitors.With the direction our Maker Lab program is headed, perhaps there will be a CYC child on the World Maker Faire center stage in the near future.