Emily Pilloton needed to teach fundamental social and life skills to her students, so the teacher and designer did that the only way she knew how — through an innovative, hands-on shop class.
Now, the shop class has followed her from Bertie County, N.C., to Berkeley, Calif., where she founded Camp H, an after-school camp that teaches design and building skills to girls 9 to 12 years old. Why girls? Pilloton told Slate she noticed her male students were more willing to readily tackle problems while female students usually wanted a set of directions or steps before attempting the project. “There aren’t enough spaces for girls to be together as girls doing things that feel audacious,” Pilloton told Slate. “I don’t want girls to just be given a hammer and say ‘You’re holding a hammer, that’s awesome!’ I want to teach them how to weld. And to work on projects that don’t feel artsy and craftsy. Not like straight-up wood shop, but to balance the creative and the artistic side.”
Pilloton is now teaching an after-school class that will teach girls “to fix the things that need repair, installation, and maintenance in our everyday lives,” which will include checking the air pressure in tires, fun experiments and core math and science concepts — subjects that students often become bored with during Pilloton’s target age group. In the future, the program plans to have students build furniture and lighting for women’s shelters.
“I want the projects either to have a personal connection or to teach the girls about being a citizen,” Pilloton told Slate. “I will never ever just give a girl or a student a set of plans and tell her to follow instructions.”
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