I left my job with Maker Jawn back in December. On this occasion, I wanted to share some things that I’ve been thinking about as I reflect back on almost three years of working as a mentor and a person who has taken on some administrative roles with the program.
First I want to list my hopes and dreams (otherwise known as suggestions) for the future of Maker Jawn:
- It would be amazing if Maker Jawn had dedicated spaces in the libraries where it takes place. These spaces could be arranged in a way that would still make them usable for other library programs or meetings, as I believe that MJ is all about community and sharing. However, working out of a closet or a couple of bookshelves and having to put everything back and away at the end of the programming creates a lot of problems. For one, limited storage space sometimes ends up damaging supplies or making them difficult to access as needed. It is also difficult to involve youth participants in clean up and putting things away when the storage situation is precarious, which takes away from them feeling a sense of responsibility and ownership over the space.
- Currently, Maker Jawn programming is usually facilitated by a single mentor who might have up to 30 kids in their space at a time. I believe that instead programming should always be facilitated by a ratio of no more than 10 Makers to a Mentor. Having as many Mentors in the space as possible is imperative for programming that actually addresses the needs and interests of each participant, is safe, and leads to real skill-building and growth. If this means that there are less programming days so that all days can be staffed by multiple mentors, this might be a necessary trade off.
- To accommodate the needs an interests of a wide range of participants (specifically thinking of wider age-range of participants), Maker programming could be designed to take place in various modes throughout each week. For example, there would be a day dedicated to open-ended, self-directed programming for younger kids; a day dedicated to open-ended, self-directed programming for teens; workshops on specific projects or skills for youth, adults, and mixed-age audiences (with topics selected with input from participants).
- Widener LEAP Leader Miss Kathy and I have recently implemented a new “teen discussion time” as part of our joint programming on Saturdays, where we take a half hour or so to discuss topics which are chosen by the teens. So far we’ve talked about issues the teens have had when dealing with guidance counselors and how this relates to PA’s school funding inequity problem. We have also discussed mental health, bullying, college, politics, and issues of sex, gender, and sexuality. Having this space for conversation has brought the group closer together and has allowed us to form tighter bonds as a community. This directly impacts the way we work together on creative and Maker projects as well, and I think incorporating time for developing communication skills and reflecting on how we engage with one another and the world around us could be a great part to intentionally incorporate in future Maker programming.
- Over the past year, MJ has experimented with doing longer-term, collaborative projects (specifically through the Curiosity Creates grant-funded projects like the KEN Cooks show, LMB’s Independent Voices program, and WID’s Future Fashion Show). All three of these projects involved participation from outside presenters who brought new skills and experiences to our program participants. The programs also included a celebratory event with family and community members that allowed kids to show off and celebrate their achievements. I think that future Maker Jawn programming should aim to develop these types of projects – build them around the interests of program participants, and plan them in a way that leads to concrete skill development but also leaves space for participant-input and direction-shifts along the way. These projects contribute to a sense of community at the library (among program participants and staff), build confidence and pride for participants, and bringing in outside presenters keeps the programming fresh and ensures that both the Makers and the Mentors are constantly learning something new. These kinds of projects do require a lot of up-front planning and would be most successful if Mentors received appropriate support and guidance from their supervisor in designing and implementing them. Creating, facilitating and documenting an entire project could be a great professional development opportunity for Mentors, many of whom already have practice managing creative projects as part of their own artistic practice.
- For a portion of my time at Maker Jawn, Mentors were generating 3 or 4 pieces of monthly curriculum to be used across all the sites as a way to mix things up and introduce new activities and supplies to our programming. Recently, this process has been abandoned, but Mentors have expressed a need for new activities to enrich what they’re able to do on their own at their sites. I think that Maker Jawn should have a dedicated Mentor who has extra hours each week on top of facilitating programming to be in charge of curriculum development. This curriculum could be actually created by the whole team of Mentors, but based on my experience, it is clear that someone needs to be given ownership and responsibility over making sure the curriculum is written, the supplies are ordered and distributed across the sites.
- It would be great for future MJ Mentors to receive consistent professional development not just from one another, but also from outside people who have skills that our group does not already possess. Monthly trainings on topics like interactive computing, behavioral management and non-oppressive facilitation, coding, and countless other topics would be a great way to build up the staff’s skill sets and create a sense of professional growth within the position. In turn, Maker Mentors could then share some of these skills with not only the Makers at their sites, but with the rest of the library staff though PD opportunities like All Staff Day and PD-focused cluster meetings.
Second, I want to say that although it is essential for libraries to provide compelling and free programming for youth, programs like Maker Jawn will never sufficiently address the consequences of PA’s school funding inequities, and should never purport to doing so. With more school privatization looming in the future under the new administration, it is the responsibility of out-of-school program providers to become active in the fight for equitable, well funded schools for all.
Lastly, the Free Library of Philadelphia is an amazing resource for the city. It is great that this vast institutions has been willing and able to support the weird and not always product-oriented program that Maker Jawn is. It’s been wonderful to talk to the people at LEAP and see that they are paying attention to what Maker Jawn is doing and are interested in finding ways to incorporate youth-driven and open-ended elements into their well-established and important program.
All that being said, there are ways in which the staff structure of the library has made it difficult for Maker Jawn to retain passionate and talented mentors. Despite being responsible for administrative tasks like submitting the team’s time-sheets to payroll; scheduling staff; grant writing; facilitating staff meetings and professional development sessions; designing, coordinating and reporting on grant projects; organizing special events; and doing web and graphic design work, Maker Mentors remain Part Time Seasonal Temporary employees with seemingly no room for growth and advancement within the library. We receive few benefits, and are not clearly informed about the benefits that we do have access to – I learned that I have paid time off options for sick days on my last day in the office. Our job title (officially “After School Leader”) also does not accurately reflect everything that we do. I hope that library decision makers take this into account when they strategize about the next phase oh Maker Jawn and work to make sure that the program provides meaningful learning and growing experiences for its participants as well as its staff.