NORTHFIELD — Redemption Christian Academy’s students are about to get more hands-on learning opportunities through the implementation of a “Maker’s Space,” a skills center on campus.
According to Redemption Christian Academy’s Program Director Marquita Wilchcombe, the school hopes to offer pottery, woodworking, welding, robotics, radio and film production, culinary arts, 3-D printing, sewing and knitting classes.
Wilchcombe said the “Maker’s Space” will lend itself to the academy’s mission to be more than a school, and to prepare children for the life ahead of them.
“It’s the education of the head, the hands and the heart,” Wilchcombe said, borrowing from the philosophy of Booker T. Washington, an influential 19th century educator and one of the time’s most influential black leaders.
Redemption Christian Academy is a Christian prep school at 154 South Mountain Road that currently teaches more than 60 pre-K to post-graduate students. The school accepts students from all around the world, with varying GPAs and from various economic and social backgrounds.
Currently, the “Maker’s Space” consists only of a pottery kiln in a small freestanding building and a woodworking shop attached to one of the academic buildings. Wilchcombe said when Redemption Christian Academy acquired the Northfield campus four years ago, it inherited woodworking equipment that the former Linden Hill School had left behind.
Wilchcombe said her father, the school’s founder John Massey Jr., always envisioned teaching technical classes, and that a “Maker’s Space” would be an asset to both the school and the community.
“Yes, we want our students to be able to use it, but we want to be able to open it up to the community as well,” Wilchcombe said, describing how she expects to see parents bringing their children there after school.
“We plan on investing in them,” she said. “We definitely want the community to benefit.”
To get the “Maker’s Space” up and running, Redemption Christian Academy needs help from the community too, Wilchcombe said. The school is holding an ongoing tool drive to collect both hand and power tools for the shop, as well as any scrap material that could be used for projects. Wilchcombe said the school will also need more computers, laser cutters and 3D printers.
The school is also planning a community lunch fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 1, to raise money for the “Maker’s Space” and to potentially add more athletic programs.
Wilchcombe said the school called in a building designer to draft blueprints for what the “Maker’s Space” could be, with an estimated budget of between $200,000 and $250,000. It would require expanding off the existing woodworking shop and adding an outside structure to shelter larger projects.
Jay Stryker, who has an extensive background in building design, carpentry, welding and engineering, will teach several hands-on classes.
“For him to take an interest in us is really going to be a blessing to our school,” Wilchcombe said, adding that the school is always on the lookout for volunteers to teach classes.
Bryan Higgins, who has been working as a clay artist for more than 20 years, will act as ceramics teacher starting in the fall semester.
“I’m hoping to share some of that wealth of knowledge and experience with the students here,” Higgins said.
The school raises money to cover its operation and projects through Goodway Bakery, which is operated by Redemption Christian Academy’s Troy, N.Y. campus, the original campus that has existed since 1979. Though full tuition at the school is $30,000 per year, many students receive financial aid and sell baked goods to alleviate costs.
Wilchcombe said her father opened the school because he wanted his own children to be able to go to a private Christian school, but couldn’t afford to send them. Thus, no student is turned away for their inability to pay and many do come from impoverished nations, Wilchcombe said.
“We market ourselves as the most affordable prep school in the area by far,” she said. “We’re trying to provide what you would get at all your prestigious prep schools, but putting it into an affordable package.”
In addition to the standard courses, the school offers classes in maple syrup production, CPR, agriculture, growing shiitake mushrooms, beekeeping, astronomy, archery and soapmaking. It also has a nature club, a speech and debate club, and a basketball program, Wilchcombe said.
Wilchcombe said the school hopes to start a fencing club this year, and one day offer volleyball and track, should coaches volunteer.
Continuing to expand its program through the “Maker’s Space” will allow students to learn new, hands-on skills and freely exercise their creativity, Wilchcombe said.
“I like the idea of having a ‘Maker’s Space’ because I think it will be really fun and hands-on,” said 17-year-old Israel Wooten, a student at Redemption Christian Academy. Wooten added he loves the idea of being able to make anything he can dream up.