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Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast relaunch makerspaces two years after construction

Ottavia Martinez and Olivia Martinez, from left, use an iPad to play a floor game.
Ottavia Martinez and Olivia Martinez, from left, use an iPad to play a floor game during the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast relaunch of their STEM-forward makerspace labs in Newport Beach on Wednesday. These newly renovated makerspaces originally opened in late 2019 to introduce kids to STEM-related fields like coding and robotics.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Newport Beach kids Zoe Ricci and Laura Murphy love making “crazy” music at the Boys & Girls Club in Newport Beach.

There are no actual instruments involved, though Zoe mentions she has her own piano at home and Laura’s parents keep a guitar. What they do have, though, is imagination to spare.

Armed with a pair of white rings around their small fingers and a flat image of what appears to be a colorful xylophone, they said they sometimes rewrite songs that they’ve heard before by tapping the rings onto the colored panels.

They are creating this music using Sphero Specdrums, just one of the new technologies that participants in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast can play with now that the makerspaces — collaborative work spaces — at its four clubhouses have officially relaunched ahead of the school year.

Robert Santana, chief executive officer of the organization, said the chapter began the process to renovate all of its clubhouses in 2019. Construction was completed in January 2020 at the Newport Beach location. But as happened with so many other previously planned activities, its reopening was delayed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A soft launch occurred in July.

Teacher Amber Plummer oversees an activity.
Teacher Amber Plummer oversees an activity during the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast relaunch of their STEM-forward makerspace labs in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

About 10,000 children are served throughout the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast territory, which includes Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Irvine, Orange and Santa Ana. More than 35 families are served at the Newport Beach location on Vista Del Oro.

A busy day is when about 100 to 150 kids visit the building. Children are ushered into the makerspace in small groups but have time throughout the day to touch and use the technology available to them.

“Makerspaces, the way that they’re designed, is they’re supposed to be fun, interactive and hands-on,” said Santana. “During the pandemic, hands-on was the issue, right? Kids need to touch all this stuff. They need to share the devices. They needed to share all this technology. So, we didn’t release all this technology during the height of the pandemic. Our clubs were open.

“We were serving the kids, spreading them out, but the makerspace was pretty much kind of on the sideline. But as things have progressed and we’ve seen the development of the virus, we’re excited to relaunch the makerspace.”

Amber Plummer overlooks kids playing soccer from their iPads.
Amber Plummer over looks kids playing soccer from their iPads during the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast relaunch of their STEM-forward makerspace labs in Newport Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In addition to the Sphero Specdrums, the makerspaces include 3D printers, Vex Robotics and more, which Santana says allows kids to access different skill sets and learn how to work collaboratively.

"[Kids] may be given the task to pick up a cube from one area and move it to another area [with a robot]. You have two groups that essentially are competing with each other,” said Santana. “They’ll have to do math. They’ll have to measure where things are. They’ll have to come up with some critical thinking around what’s the best path. Sometimes, we’ll put obstacles in the way and then they’ll work as a group to come up with a solution.

“That’s the spirit of a makerspace — using creativity and imagination and problem-solving and it’s fun. I think this is the way kids really learn in the best way. We believe every kid has a superpower. That superpower is creativity. We always talk about how kids are always so curious. They ask all these questions. We love that ... kids have that and we encourage that,” Santana said.

Ottavia Martinez moves a soccer ball from her iPad.
Ottavia Martinez moves a soccer ball from her iPad during the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast relaunch of their STEM-forward makerspace labs in Newport Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The makerspaces sprang from a prototype built in 2012 at the organization’s Santa Ana location. It was eventually scaled to suit all of their sites, according to Santana.

"[Technology] is one of the best resources we have right now. It’s moving at an exponential pace. There’s always something new, but depending on what community you live in, you may not have access to all the relevant technology,” said Santana. “Even if your kids do have access to it, it’s not just us having more screen time.

“What you’re seeing in this room is them using their critical thinking skills, using technology as an extension of themselves so they’re not just on a device watching something. They’re actually creating, innovating and building something in this makerspace.”

Garold Kraft, 12, quietly maneuvered one of the Vex robots with ease. Garold said he was part of the club during its renovations and hasn’t been to the actual clubhouse in at least two years. But he said he’s already used the 3D printers to make a Lego Nintendo Switch controller and two happy faces.

Maxwell Grant and Garold Kraft, from left, move objects around with robots.
Maxwell Grant and Garold Kraft, from left, move objects around with robots during the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast relaunch of their STEM-forward makerspace labs.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Garold said he noted that others liked “playing the Switch, so I just built one.” He said the controller wasn’t working yet, but he was thinking of trying to make it functional by putting in a tire piece so it could become a joystick. “You can just play around and do whatever you want. I built [a Vex robot] and I was coding it and just helping with other kids.”

Zoe, 7, and Laura, also 7, said their favorite activity is playing with the Sphero Specdrums.

“I just play my music however I want!” Zoe exclaimed.

Laura likes playing musical scales. She describes the sound she makes as going high to low and low to high.

“When we started playing with that thing, it was so fun and it became a favorite right away,” Laura said.

General manager Micheal Tanagon oversees the robot activity.
General manager Micheal Tanagon oversees the robot activity during the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast relaunch of their STEM-forward makerspace labs in Newport Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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