See SAM Grow: Saturdays at the Sanger SAM Academy


by Janet Miller and Victoria Cortez

SAM’s doors opened in late September and her VISTAs, Janet and Victoria, arrived on November 25, 2013. While walls were still being painted, the show went on for “OSOT,” one of the thousand or so acronyms the VISTAs are still learning but “out-of-school-time” is what SAM is all about and that means after school, Saturdays, school breaks and summers.  This public non-profit  Maker Ed VISTA Site and Community Science Workshop center spotlights kid creativity in science, technology, engineering, art, and math, (STEAM) on a daily basis.

Eva, 7. Christian, 9. Emma, 6. Jacob, 7. Iris, 10.

SAM Academy is located in Sanger, California, a small rural city outside of Fresno, CA in the San Joaquin Valley. Its population is predominantly low-income and underserved.  Unemployment is high, and average levels of attained education are much lower than the national average. A population highly dependent upon agriculture, they are hurting plenty from the California drought.

SAM Academy is working to help community members  overcome these many challenges by providing quality, innovative and personal creative opportunities.  Sanger’s youth benefit from SAM’s elaborate work and art spaces, and are encouraged by loving staff.  Our regulars walk around the shop like it’s their second home, feeling free to grab the materials they need to create whatever masterpiece they have planned. We are not used to seeing seven year olds happy to be in one space all day, but you should see Eva, and Lexy, and Roberto, and David and Adrian ,and all of their ‘colleagues’ who never tire as they move with seemingly unstructured time, from project to drawer to ah-hah, building & making with staff or even on the computer. It’s amazing how uninteresting a laptop screen becomes when you can pick up a hot glue gun or power drill and get one-on-one help building an owl box or a “wobble bot.” Huh? More new language. Even a non-science major is fascinated to see and learn why her CD racer beat another’s down the ramp, or what really made that paper airplane fly.

Art Room. Diego Rivera Reproduction on the back wall, Owl Boxes, Kid-made masks

We’re four months into our VISTA year now and Saturdays are hopping with 28 students last week plus a dozen individual guitar and keyboard lessons and a group art class.  While public school art classes were cut, SAM now has geniuses making paper mâché masks like these. It’s amazing how perfectly balanced their beauty is on a wall opposite a Diego Rivera reproduction. Look out Diego, the makers are coming!


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Photo: “A Sip of Conflict” Actual drinking fountain at the San Francisco Exploratorium; a social experiment display.


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