Getting kids into college isn’t the point at Workshop Houston.
“It’s hard to tell an 11-year-old who does not have any family members or friends that have gone to college, that it’s important to go to college eight years from now,” says Reginald Hatter, co-director of Workshop Houston, an after school program that runs out of a renovated house in Houston’s impoverished Third Ward. “We give them the tools and the resources that they can actually use today, and then when they get to the time to make the decision, they will say, ‘Not only do I want to go to college, I actually feel like I’m prepared.'”
Workshop Houston provides this assistance through four classes, or “shops” as it refers to them. The Beat Shop teaches kids how to make music, and the Chopper Shop helps them modify their bicycles to look like badass motorcycles. During Style Shop, students design and make clothes, and in the Scholar Shop — the only mandatory class — they receive lessons on a number of topics and homework assistance. The program, which has been running for more than a decade, has helped approximately 1,000 students in a neighborhood where extracurricular activities are sparse and one in four families live below the poverty line.
Hatter wasn’t around when four college friends decided to open the bike shop. He came along four years later, in 2007, after spending six months tutoring kids for state efficiency tests at a public school on the other side of town. “There was something about what was happening [at Workshop Houston] it was different, it was unique,” explains Hatter, who was yearning for more freedom in the classroom. He received an offer to run the program’s Scholar Shop, but along with it came a significant reduction in salary. To help make up for the low pay, he also received housing — a single room — in the abandoned home behind the school. It wasn’t exactly a strong selling point, but it was enough to convince him to break his lease and take the job. Hatter bathed in the school’s sink and ran an extension chord through the window, attaching it to a small air conditioner. “I didn’t have no bathroom, I didn’t have nothing,” says Hatter, who lived there during his first six months on the job.
Three years later, Hatter was promoted to co-director of the program and remains in that position today. Under his leadership, he replaced volunteer instructors with paid professionals, like Bass Heavy, a New Orleans-based bass player. Heavy, a music producer who has worked with artists such as Mannie Fresh and Juvenile, now runs the Beat Shop.
After 12 years, Workshop Houston continues to grow and receive attention. A few months ago, the organization received a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award; part of the winnings included the opportunity to perform at the White House. This year, the organization is partnering with Berklee College of Music to help further participants’ music education. Hatter doesn’t just see the program expanding in the Third Ward; he also believes it is a model to be implemented in other underserved neighborhoods across the country.
“I would love to have Workshop Dallas, Workshop Los Angeles, Workshop New York. There’s not even a doubt in my mind, its going to happen.”