Studio H, a design/build class at REALM Charter School in Berkeley, California, was founded by Emily Pilloton. A builder of tree forts since childhood who trained in architecture and design, Pilloton moved into teaching because she “knew there were things about architecture and design that could have a deep impact in the classroom.” She shares the knowledge of tools and handicraft she’s honed over the course of her life both within the school and through an after-school and summer program called Girls Garage.
To Pilloton, the act of making is a powerful, life-altering force for both students and their broader communities. She gives participants the confidence to use a wide variety of tools and turn vision into working products: “I want to have 10-year-old girls who walk in fearful and walk out having fused metal.” But she also knows that her work can change the community around her. In 2013, when Studio H middle-school students told her that REALM needed a library, she and her colleagues had them design and build it themselves, starting with unique X-shaped shelving units that formed the basis of a successful Kickstarter campaign—which raised enough money for building materials, books, periodicals, and digital subscriptions. Pilloton says these types of maker projects are the beginning of “changing who gets to make the world.”
Art and design changed the life of David Wilson, a 12th grader at REALM Charter School in Berkeley, California. Wilson’s mother died when he was 13, and he felt a sense of connection to her in Studio H, a design/build class at the school that was founded by Emily Pilloton. “Me and my mom, when I was younger, we used to love drawing together. She used to always tell me that I was a great artist,” he says, “and I always believed her.”
Today, Wilson understands how his mother, and his education, gave him a voice when he needed one most: “Designing and building is powerful because it can show people what you’re feeling and what you’re going through.”