For the first time in Alexandria, children in grades 2-8 can build useful wooden structures, thanks to a new summer program right in their school’s backyard.
Discovery Middle School and Community Education hosted its initial Makercamp July 29 through Aug. 1, and 25 kids living in the area were hard at work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily – but, of course, not without frequent breaks.
The finished products of this year’s camp were a 50-foot-long boardwalk and 30-foot bridge. Students were able to show off their work to local businesses and parents on Thursday for the grand opening.
Lukas Gotto, technology integration specialist at Discovery Middle School and main coordinator of Makercamp, previously held a similar program in Minnewaska with a friend and colleague. He wanted to bring it to Alexandria.
“I thought, ‘Why in the world aren’t we doing it here?’” he said.
The grounds of the school are around 100 acres and he and other district staff members hope to open up that land to the community. “We want this to be a spot where people can walk and bring their kids.”
In addition to increasing community involvement, the school has plans to make the grounds a better learning space and have classes such as science use the space.
Gotto said the main goal of the camp was to focus on design thinking. The students built prototypes of bridges and boardwalks with popsicle sticks before helping build the real thing.
As far as the actual bridge and boardwalk went, the students’ job was just to build. The math and engineering portion of the bridge production was left up to adults.
“These kids are just learning how to use tools: how to swing a hammer, how to use a nail," Gotto said.
He has previous experience in construction so he helped guide the students in properly executing these tasks. John Holmen and Dave Harstad were additional supervisors to the projects.
It’s important to help improve the community and these students are gaining a sense of service learning as a result of this camp, Gotto said. With these new structures, the grounds are being conserved and kept healthy.
Gotto said the best part of teaching the camp was seeing the kids light up when they combined outdoor learning and trade skills. “It’s been awesome," he said.
He said it’s pretty amazing how these young kids can build such complex structures in four days, and they can gain a sense of ownership. “When the older kids come back to Discovery, they can say they built that.”
“Community Education's Makercamp certainly is a one of a kind, hands-on, learning, fun week-long experience for our students,” Lynn Jenc, director of the Community Education program, said in an email.
The school is looking to have more projects made within the coming years, Gotto said. Examples include floating docks, wood deck houses and Little Free Libraries.
District administration is looking to expand the program in coming years; for example, having two weeks of camp with different campers each week.
Livia Jameson, an incoming third grader, said she builds with wood at home often.
“(I signed up for Makercamp) because I thought it was going to be fun and it was going to be a lot of work. I like work,” she said.
Her favorite part of Makercamp was putting screws into boards with drills.
Archer Swaggert, an incoming second grader, also said he likes using drills and it was his favorite part.
“I just love kids,” Gotto said. “It’s fun to see the 'ah’s' when they get it right.”
Contech Engineered Solutions, Viking Sportsmen, Pheasants Forever, Anglers Dark House Association, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Hilltop Lumber all donated resources to these projects.