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Building Futures hopes to inspire students through construction

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2012 - Research shows that working with one’s hands and creating muscle memory engages more parts of the brain than does simply listening, allowing a student to focus and retain more effectively. Major companies, such as Facebook, have even begun to place whiteboards, glass windows and chalkboards around offices to encourage employees to express their ideas by doodling, in order to promote creativity.

Expression of oneself through art can be an incredibly freeing. Working without limitations can allow people to cope with tough times, learn to communicate with others and discover more about themselves.

The St. Louis school system, however, does not always understand the many ways that students learn and think, says Frank Lorberbaum, founder and director of the new youth program Building Futures.

“Some people need to write to learn, some need to dream, some need to read, some need to research the web, some need to use their hands.” His mission with Building Futures is to foster these methods of education by teaching students to design, build and share their creations in weekly construction workshops.

Lorberbaum and his ex-wife Gay Lorberbaum, who will also lead the program, have always had a passion for youth development, education, and architecture. Frank teaches designing and building classes at Construction Careers Center Charter High School, and Gay has spent many years involved in youth community service as well as architecture. Their new program intends to take building skills in high school education to the next level, potentially even preparing students for future job opportunities.

“The problem I’ve seen with young people today is their unwillingness to think, unwillingness to problem solve, or get personally involved in something they’re doing,” Lorberbaum says. Building Futures plans to combat these issues by giving St. Louis public school students an outlet through creativity, invention and collaboration, he said.

The theory behind the program’s curriculum is that using one’s hands to build, one’s peers to find inspiration, and one’s own “lateral thinking” encourages the expansion of possibility through tangible, 3-D solutions. Broadening the perspectives and widening the minds of Building Future’s students will happen only with freedom of expression and creativity, Lorberbaum says.

According to the program description, “The boundaries among sculpture, woodworking, painting, drawing, print-making, carpentry, writing, model making, architectural design, furniture design, object scale design, graphic design and doing will NOT exist in the Building Futures workshop.”

The pilot program will run for eight Saturdays in June and July, offering morning and afternoon workshops for 20 students each. During these workshops, students will focus on projects that will benefit their schools: garden planters, lanterns, shelving, study tables and collapsible benches.

Each class will have a design period, where the students have time to draw and build models, but “the focus of the workshop will be the time to work with tools,” says Lorberbaum. Each week’s class will feature one tool in particular, anything from saws to drills to sanders. The first couple weeks will focus on the construction of a "treasure chest," and the course’s curriculum will culminate in the building of a piece of furniture from one 4’x8’ sheet of plywood, for the students to take home.

After that, Lorberbaum plans to continue Saturday classes through the 2012-13 school year, with 40 workshops total. In the next year, Lorberbaum hopes to expand the program to include daily after school workshops as well as academic courses.

Lorberbaum also hopes to involve a mobile classroom in the program’s future, which will drive to the different schools as part of the school day’s curriculum. “Most of the schools don’t have shop facilities or anyone to teach,” says Lorberbaum, but a mobile classroom would make the opportunity possible.

The hopes for a relationship with the public school system are now just hopes, and are aimed at starting in the fall of 2013. “We have not approached the public school system yet. We are waiting until we have completed the Pilot Program in order to further document our process.”

Building Futures will also have ties to other St. Louis organizations. “Hopefully what we’re doing will feed into YouthBuild,” says Lorberbaum. YouthBuild, which replaced the Youth Education and Health in Soulard (YEHS) program several years ago, is a program through which low-income 16 through 24-year-olds work full-time doing schoolwork and building affordable housing. Building Futures looks to teach students preliminary skills and foster an interest in construction that can be transferred into the St. Louis chapter of YouthBuild.

The Lorberbaums are still working to raise funds for the program, and have been since February of this year. “We will offer the class starting June 9, even if Gay and I have to fund it ourselves. We have gotten a few donations but are still approaching individuals and business for help,” says Lorberbaum of the fundraising process. Lorberbaum is very positive about the progress, saying, “Luckily we have a shot.”

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