Middle School Program
It’s 3:30 p.m., and the school day is over for most middle school children in the Houston area. But for dozens of youngsters filing through the doors of Workshop Houston, the real learning is just beginning. Located in the Third Ward, an impoverished community near the downtown area, with some of the city’s highest levels of school absenteeism and lowest graduation rates, Workshop Houston is demonstrating how an alternative educational model—one that taps students’ interests and creativity—can engage them in ways that the traditional school system often cannot.
Established in 2006, Workshop Houston comprises various “shops” geared to adolescents’ interests. The Chopper Shop is located in a small brick building that formerly housed an illegal dog-fighting operation. Here, students learn to use metalworking and welding equipment to make their own bikes, go-karts, or sculptures. Next door, in a converted apartment building, students can work in the Beat Shop, producing hip-hop music, or in the Style Shop, designing and creating clothing and accessories.
In each shop, participants follow a self-paced curriculum, which embeds academics into the process and shows participants how learning relates to the “real world.” In the Chopper Shop, students learn history and theory of design, alongside principles of geometry and trigonometry, while sketching bike designs. Beat Shop participants work on grammar and sentence structure and practice analyzing and writing poems and rhymes in order to compose better song lyrics. Students in the Style Shop study theory and principles of design and follow written directions, scale designs, and take measurements as they make their own clothing. All participants also spend an hour a day in a fourth shop—the Scholar Shop—that emphasizes discovery-based learning and intellectual exploration. Its enrichment curriculum includes creative writing and group discussions on current events. In addition, academic challenges and activities help students with problem areas in school. This shop also allocates time for completing homework assignments.
Along with a strong educational focus, creative self-expression is integral to Workshop Houston’s approach. During adolescence, young people seek outlets to explore and express who they are, explains Co-Director Reginald Hatter. The shops give them a positive way to transform their ideas into tangible products—bikes, songs, or clothes—that build self-worth and self-esteem, he notes. As they tackle creative challenges, students’ horizons also expand, adds Co-Director Katy Goodman. “They say to themselves, ‘I learned how to weld; I can learn how to code.’ It unleashes an inner confidence in kids that they can take in myriad directions.”
What we’re trying to do is let kids know why education is important: It’s not just telling them; it’s showing them why that’s true.Katy Goodman Co-Director, Workshop Houston