Intention and Impact at Grass Valley’s Black History Month Family Maker Night

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This past Thursday, Maker VISTA partner site Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland, CA held a Black History Month Family Maker Night & Heritage Potluck. This event featured a little bit of everything—making, breaking bread, discussion—and a whole lot of one thing: intention.

From the night’s theme of honoring and exploring historic and modern contributions of African American innovators; to its effect of including students, parents and teachers in a convergence of both traditional and new forms of making; down to the signage that invited youth and adults alike to snap selfies among acclaimed scholars and creators so as to envision themselves as #IAmNext, this event was thoughtfully designed to both engage and reflect the members of Grass Valley’s community.

Maker VISTA members created the invitations for the event

Maker VISTA members created the invitations for the event

Maker VISTA members Crystal Le and Maria Renteria organized and fueled this event from start to finish, led by their phenomenal, powerhouse supervisor Paula Mitchell, a Teacher on Special Assignment for Maker Ed/PBL & Blended Learning. Together, this team solicited and comprised a panel of professionals, parents, and local makers to kick off the evening by sharing their diverse STEAM career paths, stories, struggles and successes with gathered guests. Then, Crystal, Maria and Paula choreographed a making and sharing progression down the school’s main hallway, utilizing color-coded tabs and music cues to weave students and parents in and out of pop-up classroom makerspaces. In each space, participants could take turns building their own interpretation of an African American innovator’s invention—entirely guided by a student maker. Stations in the spaces included opportunities to create lanterns, guitars, 3-D glasses, pens, three-wheeled vehicles, and even an x-ray.

A first-grade student leads the lantern making station at Grass Valley Elementary

A first-grade student leads the lantern making station

A particular moment of impact emerged when one of those student makers, a giddy and expert first-grader, explained to a handful of friends and peers (and this novice, yours truly) how to construct a lantern. The experience of having us in rapt attention, grouped around her, asking her for advice—in front of her mother and grandmother—made her bounce confidently on tip-toes, eager to answer all of us. She struck exactly the braggy balance between identifying what worked for her, and encouraging us to figure out what worked best for ourselves, all while showcasing to her family what she has been troubleshooting for several weeks. Like the tea-light lantern she proudly held up, she glowed.

After the hands-on activities, students and parents convened in the cafeteria for presentations by the first-ever cohort of Grass Valley Maker Ambassadors. These four students, from 3rd through 5th grade, had devoted the entire month to researching an African American innovator and developing a project inspired by that original work. They visited the school’s makerspace, the Wonder Workshop, during recess, library time, and after-school in order to devote time and effort to their self-driven explorations. Their completed projects were met with admiration and applause from their peers and parents as they received recognition from Paula on stage—but what’s more, each shared plans for continued making.

Paula and the Maker VISTAs mindfully coordinated this evening so that they could offer varied and numerous entry points for parents, staff, and visitors to engage in the environment and with the approaches that students are diving into everyday. From the materials, to the spaces, to the voices providing real-world context—voices ranging from a PG&E apprentice, to a designer and fashion professor, to a grandmother who started her own crafting business; from a principal, to an after-school specialist, to a first-grader explaining how a lantern functions—the event was structured to include, to invite, to inspire. Whether in small steps, along the periphery of a making station, or in emphatic cheers or laughs of delighted discovery, parents and families joined young makers in homage and in aspiration. Intention, with invention, made for an amazing event.


To see more from Grass Valley’s Black History Month Family Maker Night & Heritage Potluck event, check out the Grass Valley Facebook page. To consider more about connecting making with community, read last week’s blog post about bridging Black History Month and making. Also, share what you’re making for Black History Month with us by tweeting @MakerEdOrg.

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