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Revitalizing Bertie County: Studio H

Studio H is a high school design/build curriculum for rural community benefit. It provides college credit, a summer job, and a hands-on opportunity to build real-world projects for the community.

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Bertie County is the poorest county in North Carolina. It is very rural, swampy, and sparsely populated with just 27 people per square mile and a total population of about 20,000. The county seat of Windsor is home to just over 2000 people. The county’s main economy is agriculture, its main crops tobacco, cotton, peanuts, and some corn and soy. Its biggest employers are the Perdue chicken processing plant, and the school district. One in three children in Bertie County live in poverty and 95% of all public school students receive a free or reduced-rate lunch. The county is 65% African-American, though its public school is made up of 86% African American students. In 2007, just 27% of 3rd-8th grade students were passing the state standard for both English and math, though those numbers are beginning to increase.

In these type of areas, very often young locals leave as soon as they can. How can we make sure to make them want to stay, and give back to their community?

This past year, Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller created Studio H, a class of high school students learning through design. The story behind this project is beautifully told by Emily in the TED Talk video I've included.

The culmination of over a year's worth of work was a much-needed (and quite beautiful) farmer's market pavilion for the area. The idea for the farmer's market pavilion came from both the students and the local community. "It was something the town wanted," explains Pilloton. The pavilion is the third project from Studio H students. The first project was a small cornhole board, and the second was a series of chicken coops that were given away to families after a flood destroyed the town. Studio H's farmer's market pavilion, however, was the first large-scale project.

Before even thinking about building, Pilloton had to start with the basics. "Almost none of the students knew how to read a ruler," she says. "None had any design experience, and some had never even held a hammer." So Miller and Pilloton taught the students math, how to lay out projects, how to use shop equipment--essentially, everything they needed to know to go out and build.


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This reminded me of a novel and wonderful school in Denmark, The KaosPilots, where students engage in real world "social solutions" projects for clients in their region and around the world.

Here is the definition of a student who attends this school:

A KaosPilot is an enterprising leader who navigates change for the benefit of him/herself and society as a whole.
the kaospilot navigates terrain. they take the unknown and make it theirs. beyond navigation, they help to give form to the very ground.
this involves redefinition of norms. stepping outside conventional thinking. the kp dares. they strike into things beyond, not-thought-of, never dreamed. the kaospilot is responsible for building the dreams of the next millennium. their strength is a process of innovation, invention, improvisation. they play off of situations.
they seem to master a fluency in human potential. the kp invites everyone to step beyond their boundaries.
what they know is to not work to expectations. instead, they throw far afield. that anything is possible. and that once they think it, they can find a way to get there.
William Tate, Umbau

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