Spending the last 16 years developing consumer products for the Internet has taught Piedmont’s Dion Lim a thing or two about building a successful enterprise in a high-tech environment.
“The most important characteristic that makes a successful entrepreneur is resourcefulness,” he says, “and that has a lot to do with hacking.”
So, when his wife came home from a Sunday mother’s group talking about Oakland’s Hacker Scouts, he saw an opportunity for his 11-year-old twin daughters and 9-year-old son.
“We’ve really tried to foster some high-order thinking skills and creativity in our children,” he said. “We do everything form soccer to Chinese to abacus and other sports, but there are very few extra curricular activities that allow children to really explore their creative side.”
At Hacker Scouts, Lim’s daughters are learning computer programming and building their own light desk for tracing and drawing using 2D to 3D modeling, while his son develops his own light saber through hands-on, project based learning.
“If a kid wants to build a robot or furniture or a metal fire breathing pig, we ask what kind of skills will you need and one by one we help them pick off those skills,” Samantha Metalone Cook, executive director at Hacker Scouts, said.
Of course kids don’t go from novice to fire breathing pigs all at once. Like their name suggests, Hacker Scouts awards badges, beginning in their bimonthly Open Lab, to children that master basic skills such as soldering, from which they can build a solid foundation to reach their goals.
While many of the badges in Hacker Scouts fall within popular educational subjects like science, technology, engineering and math, Cook doesn’t want kids to forget the roll art plays in creating and repurposing useful objects.
“You can’t take art out of the equation,” she said. “Art is essential to the understanding of those other concepts.”
Lim couldn’t agree more.
“I talk to my children a lot about the intersection of humanities and science,” he said. “The move to common core [in Oakland’s public schools] is just starting to scratch the surface of things that are multidisciplinary.”
But more than art and science, Hacker Scouts is about training kids to be resourceful citizens, utilizing and reinventing the materials around them in innovative ways.
“If we’re going to talk about sustainability we need talk about hacking so we can modify things and fix them instead of creating something new,” Cook said, “It’s essential to creating a generation that is successful and can keep up with how society is changing.”
One assignment sent Lim’s children dumpster diving to bring back what others consider trash, in order to break it down and create something entirely different.
“The experience my kids are getting is preparing them better for the future than anything else they’re involved in,” Lim said.
Hacker Scouts has been preparing an average of 50 kids at a time for the future since last November, but nearly a year in and they’ve already out grown their borrowed facilities at Ace Monster Toys.
By the end of this November, Hacker Scouts will have expanded to 10 locations nationwide, with sites in Los Angeles, Ithaca, NY, Las Vegas, New Mexico, Michigan and Nebraska, but Oakland will always be home.
“We’ve been offered other spaces in other cities, but were adamant about staying in Oakland and supporting our community,” Cook said.
To stay home, Hacker Scouts has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $35,000 that will help prototype new classes and programs, buy equipment and move into a new space at 61st and Telegraph to serve the 100 kids on their waitlist.
Cook is also partnering with community organizations to develop afterschool programming and working on getting Hacker Scouts into low-income communities.
“We really want to get involved in community organization and outreach, and offer kids coming in access to the kinds of education and equipment we have,” she said. “We don’t charge for our programs, guild fees are all material fees. But we’re volunteer, so if we can get help we can get the kind of things people want, but we need the community.”
“My children benefit every single day from what they learn in Hacker Scouts,” Lim said. “It’s is one more reason Oakland is a ridiculously exciting place to live. It’s the center of youth maker movement. Anytime you take something early in a stream that becomes an ocean good things are going to happen for the city.”
How to get involved
Learn more about Hacker Scouts and their kid-centered programs on their website.
Help keep Hacker Scouts in Oakland By donating to their Kickstarter campaign.
For additional information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their current location at Ace Monster Toys, 6050 Lowell Street, Suite 214, Oakland, CA 94608.