“My favorite moment was the first day we used the new space. That raw space inspired me beyond belief,” says high school junior Ryan Sander, referring to a new Evanston, Ill., facility where kids can learn—and in the process learn more about who they really are. “I was able to explore a certain level of creativity that I had never accessed before.”
A former warehouse-turned-furniture showroom before its latest incarnation as Hackstudio, the building, at 16,000 square feet, gave Sander, who choreographed a hip-hop dance, plenty of room to flex his muscles, especially his creative one. In May, he and 18 other youngsters, ages 8–18, completed a four-month beta program at the studio co-founded by Michael “Mike” Meiners (M.Arch. ’00).
“Hackstudio is a place for kids to learn how to succeed by being who they are,” says the enthusiastic Meiners, who recalls that as a kid he always had his own ideas about what he wanted to do. “The program is made to draw out the things that matter deeply to each child. We move the kids into projects of their own design that they define clearly with the help of mentors and peers. The program is also designed to move kids into moments of struggle, but in that process they build their identity.”
“Hackstudio is a place for kids to learn how to succeed by being who they are,”
Four years ago Meiners, father to two sons, established a 45-minute “project time” session one evening each week at home with his children. He says that the sessions have grown into Hackstudio, where his sons, 11 and 12, now work on their projects.
“School is necessary; school is valuable,” Meiners explains. “But kids need the opportunity to explore the things that have deep meaning. The realities of scheduling and responsibilities make it difficult to carve out time to do this. Hackstudio is a way for kids to have that exploration time.”
Along with business partners Randy Blaugh and Katy Bradford, Meiners will open Hackstudio to the public in September. Kids will attend a weekly two-hour session over a quarter term and after choosing their projects will work with peers and mentors to get them done. Mentors, however, will only step in when kids face a moment of real struggle. That key policy proved to be especially valuable to at least one beta participant.
“At Hackstudio I learned life skills that will be applicable in everything I do in the future,” says Sander, “such as having the ability to persevere until something is absolutely finished and seeing things through to the end.”