New Makerspace at Camelot’s Therapeutic Day School of Belvidere Helps Students Help Others
At Camelot’s Therapeutic Day School of Belvidere, students are acquiring new skills while also learning to do good for others, thanks to the school’s new Makerspace program. As the name implies, this is a place where students make things. But it’s much more than that. Makerspace allows students to gain hands-on experience as they design, create, build, and invent.
The space, which is housed in the school’s converted library, complements an emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) programming.
“More and more, we are infusing STEAM into our programming, but we also want to make sure we capture an array of interests and the strengths of our students. So we’re doing unique things such as using sewing machines,” said Camelot Education’s deputy superintendent for therapeutic day schools, Theresa Mortl Smith. “The Makerspace program allows us to expand students’ skills and provide additional focus areas. We teach about areas as broad as robotics and aquaponics, but we’re also incorporating creative arts- and crafts-based activities.”
As a part of the Makerspace programming, students at the school have been making bibs and burp cloths for a local hospital’s newborn intensive care unit (NICU).
“A member of our staff had her baby this past March, nine weeks early. He was in the NICU for two months, and so our students took a great interest in that. They wanted to know all about the NICU and what happens to the babies who are in there. That’s what led them to decide to make burp cloths, something the hospital often runs short of,” Principal Heather Nelson said.
Added Mortl Smith, “We’re giving back and partnering with the community, and that’s a very important belief for Camelot. Making these items for the hospital is a valuable lesson for students, but it also shows how our school has evolved and become established in the community.”
As the program in Belvidere has grown, Nelson and Mortl Smith have tried to make sure that the curriculum focuses on skills that are going to help students in the 21st century. Last school year and this summer, they realized they could have a smooth segue from STEAM programming into a complementary Makerspace.
Nelson has created a very bright and vibrant space that has flexible seating arrangements, creating an atmosphere of learning which promotes creativity and innovation.
“That’s really important from the youngest ages,” Mortl Smith said. “What Heather has done with the space is remarkable, and then the activities that she brings in are based upon where students’ interests lie and what we feel will help them have skills to work toward meaningful employment down the road. In the case of what we’re doing with the burp cloths, give back to the community.”
Some students at Camelot’s Therapeutic Day School of Belvidere are interested in going into fashion and design so learning how to operate a sewing machine is step one.
“We also have students who want to be graphic designers,” Nelson said. “So in addition to our regular sewing machines, we have added an embroidery sewing machine so they can create their own designs and feed them into the computer to embroider clothes, smocks, and just about anything else. We have other students involved in Makerspace who want to learn video game design. They are also using software programs in Makerspace for electives like web design and interactive media.”
Students of every age use Makerspace. Camelot’s Therapeutic Day School of Belvidere, which serves students with emotional and behavioral difficulties, became the first of Camelot Education’s therapeutic day schools in Illinois to create a Makerspace program. Two others, Camelot’s Therapeutic Day School of Naperville and Camelot’s South Suburban Center for Exceptional Learners, are following suit. Camelot Education customizes programming based on the children served at each campus, so Makerspace programs are unique to each school location.
As part of Makerspace’s continuing charitable endeavors, students at Camelot’s Therapeutic Day School of Belvidere are going to use their Bobcat mascot image and produce “Bobcat Beanies for Babies” to give to the NICU and other area hospitals, just in time for colder weather. They are also going to make blankets for a Young Moms group in Marengo. They continue to volunteer weekly at the Marengo Stone Soup kitchen as well. Finally, said Nelson, they are going to raise money for the second straight year for the Ronald McDonald House by collecting pop-tabs.
“One of the things that came out of going to the Ronald McDonald House last year was students saying ‘there are kids who are in a worse situation than I am.’ Some of our students know they have challenges and they’re like, ‘oh my goodness, there’s someone else who needs help more than I need’,” said Nelson.
That’s a lesson for all of us.