Makers Making a Difference: Community Service in the Makerspace

Introduction

Our school library makerspaces are unique environments where creative and diverse learning takes place. At Islip High School Library in New York, we have embraced Laura Fleming's philosophy of creating a makerspace that is meaningful to your school community (Fleming 2018). While supporting the curriculum and student interests, we also empower our youth to provide service to their community. Cultivating community partnerships to promote engagement is one of the cornerstones of the Future Ready Librarians framework. For us, it's about partnerships, not just the projects.

Our MakerCare service model is unique and meaningful to our school community and can serve as a model for schools across the country. Students visit the makerspace through class participation, group activities, and individual interests. This well-established program nurtures public service by encouraging and inspiring youth to create tangible, useful items. Simply put, we nurture compassion, empathy, and kindness among youth to help those in need.

Compassionate acts affect both recipient and participant. Recently, my family was on the receiving end of a student-led compassionate community service project. My husband was in the hospital during the holiday season and received a do-it-yourself Chanukah puzzle created by fourth graders at a local school. It's not enjoyable celebrating holidays in a healthcare facility and receiving this creative maker activity was fun. I can attest to how much it means to recipients to know that someone cares and wants to support them. While some maker activities offer respite from a hospital stay, other activities can truly provide a helping hand. Think about the students we hear of throughout the country creating 3-D printed prosthetic limbs for those in need.

It's very easy to incorporate service projects into your makerspace, whether informally or in a curricular context. For example, we set up a table dedicated solely to community service with supplies and instructions for projects lasting a month to six weeks, giving everyone who wishes to participate a chance to fit it into their schedules. We leave a record book handy on the table for students who need to keep track of service hours as a requirement for National Honor Society, Boy Scouts, or other groups.

Curriculum Connections

Some schools already have a service learning curriculum in place through standards set forth by the National Youth Leadership Council. Even if you don't have a formal service learning curriculum in your school, service learning gives school librarians another way to collaborate with classroom teachers using existing curricula.

Family & Consumer Science

Start with the family and consumer science teachers in your building to implement a variety of sewing projects. We have five sewing machines in our makerspace for this purpose, and students in the sewing classes serve as maker mentors. Students can learn simple straight stitches by sewing catnip squares for the local animal shelter. Or, go global by creating items for the Christian nonprofit Little Dresses for Africa (http://www.littledressesforafrica.org). This year we are making library book bags for first grade students in our school district.

Art

Does your school health office need a makeover? Students at Biglerville High School in York, Pennsylvania, created soothing artwork on ceiling tiles for patients at WellSpan's Apple Hill Health Campus. Placed in the Women's Imaging Center radiology suite, these art tiles serve as a focal point for relaxation and stimulate conversation among patients and healthcare providers.

Students can work together to create a coloring book fundraiser. Color for a Cause, a coloring book, created by over thirty art students at Bernards High School in New Jersey, benefits cancer patients. Some students worked on the art and others on digital scanning and organization, creating a niche for participants of different skill sets.

Environmental Studies

Learning about climate change? Plastics in the ocean? Global garbage crisis? Invite classes into your makerspace to upcycle materials. For instance, plastic bags can be turned into plarn (plastic yarn) and crocheted into sleep mats for the homeless or into jump ropes that can be donated to afterschool programs. Leveraging environmental studies and upcycling not only teaches youth about science, but they also learn other skills while saving the planet.

Social Action for Students

PhilanthroParties

Following the work of Lulu Cerone, host a "party with a purpose" in your library. In her book, PhilanthroParties!, Cerone lists monthly celebrations and activities for socially minded youth. Use your library to research the cause and your makerspace for the activity and decorations. Invite students and service clubs to participate. Channel the power of philanthropic parties to inspire students to help others while they have a fun time.

Visual Attention Grabbers from Yarn Bombing to Political Signage

Knitting groups in the library can undertake a diverse variety of projects from knitting scarves for the homeless to choosing to make a political statement. Yarn bombing, the colorful display of knitted or crocheted yarn, can serve to beautify the community or bring attention to a situation or cause. Though we may not actively arrange to implement a program, spontaneous programming and supporting individual student needs are always part and parcel for a librarian. Makerspaces provide civic and politically minded youth with a workspace for creating signage for local or national marches, and even school elections. Our makerspace gets busy during student union elections. Access to supplies levels the field for students, allowing student candidates without individual funding to create signage for their campaigns.

Conclusion

Never overlook those closest to you. Students and staff members in your school may need help, too. A teacher at our school has a nephew with cerebral palsy and needed some bandanna bibs sewn for him. We promptly took up the cause. This project can be implemented on a larger scale by donating these bibs to a local support group. As Mother Teresa espoused, "Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you." By doing this, youth see the impact first hand and become encouraged/inspired to act on a larger scale, helping more people.

To quote one of my favorite service learning gurus, Cathryn Berger Kaye,

Teachers must become agents of change for students to become change agents. When this is done in overt ways, students discover what change looks like and can then choose to adopt favorable behaviors to change internally and externally (2010, 242).

Each generation nurtures and inspires the next. So, I challenge you—be the change agent you wish to see your student become!

Works Cited and Suggested Resources

Want help setting up a service-based makerspace? Check out my post here: http://ideas.demco.com/blog/inspire-students-compassionate-makers/

Cerone, Lulu. PhilanthroParties!: A Party-Planning Guide for Kids Who Want to Give Back. Aladdin, 2017.

Fleming, Laura. The Kickstart Guide to Making GREAT Makerspaces. Corwin, 2018.

Kaye, Cathryn Berger. The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum & Social Action. 2nd ed. Free Spirit Publishing, 2010.

Seymour, Gina. Makers with a Cause: Creative Service Learning Projects for Library Youth. Libraries Unlimited, 2018.

About the Author

Gina Seymour, MLS, MEd, is the library media specialist at Islip (NY) High School. Gina was named to Library Journal's Movers & Shakers (2017) list as a "Change Agent" and was awarded the Suffolk School Library Media Association's School Librarian of the Year in 2014. She is author of Makers with a Cause: Creative Service Projects for Library Youth and a chapter on inclusive makerspaces in School Library Makerspaces in Action and is working on a book on how to cultivate social action in the library. Gina has served on numerous committees for ALA and YALSA and is an adjunct professor at St. John's University, NY. Gina shares her work, musings and reflections on her blog GinaSeymour.com and on Twitter @ginaseymour.

MLA Citation Seymour, Gina. "Makers Making a Difference: Community Service in the Makerspace." School Library Connection, May 2018, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2147974.

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Entry ID: 2147974

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