Monday, July 24, 2017

Testing The Guitar Curriculum

I am currently in Clarksdale, Mississippi working with youth to build guitars from scratch. When locals hear that response, they raise their eyebrows and nod their heads because, while it may seem a bit unconventional, it also makes sense. Coahoma County is a rich artistic community. People are building and creating all the time. It is normal to hear a young person improvise a song about getting out of bed, or meet elders who perform at juke joints they built themselves, or see families singing and celebrating every Sunday at church. So, building musical instruments with community members is understandable.

The most exciting part about being here is that I am working on a project I've been a part of since January 2016. For almost two years, I've been learning about Coahoma County, collaborating with community members, and designing with youth through my Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship class. During those semesters, I had the opportunity to visit the county five times, and engage with hundreds of high schoolers. We asked them what they would like to learn through hands-on education, and music, performing and visual arts, technology, and entrepreneurship were the top voted areas. We developed a guitar curriculum to include all those parts. 

Since May, I been testing the curriculum. I have worked with 15 middle and high schoolers who built 12 diddley bows, led a 3-day STEM camp for 35 youth, and hosted a pop-up activity with 10 kids. It's been great!
2 min video of the ADE Community Dev project

Building diddley bows has definitely been a highlight of my time here. It's funny because when we start out, most of them are pretty confused. They follow the steps, build the body, put in the pick-ups, and once we start planning the design for the neck, the light bulb turns on and they get really excited. Last month when I was with 3 youth in Bobo, I ask them if they needed a break after working 3 hours straight, they all shook their heads and proclaimed they wanted to continue. Seeing that reaction was rewarding, and I hope in the future, our program will generate the same energy.  

Youth in Bobo celebrating their finished instruments

In early June, I partnered with the Coahoma Community College to host a 3-day STEM camp. I asked for a cap of 15 students, and within a day, 35 students were signed up. I hadn't led a camp in years, and definitely was out of practice, but luckily the college staff was there to support me. During those three days, the group of 1st to 6th graders participated in a paper tower challenge, boat design challenge, and team building activities. They made collages, bottle rockets, and even tried coding. From what I heard, most of the youth enjoyed it, especially the bottle rockets, which gives me hope I did something right.

Building paper towers under time and resource constraints

The next few weeks here, I will be building a guitar with 3 youth from Bobo, and I will keep you updated on our progress in future posts. Thanks for reading!

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