Studio H starts the school year at REALM!

September 5th, 2012

Earlier this year, we announced our bittersweet departure from Bertie County, and this summer relocated Studio H to an amazing charter school in Berkeley, California. REALM (Revolutionary Education And Learning Movement) is a free public charter school (middle and high school) in West Berkeley, in its second year of operations. We joined the school because of its revolutionary spirit, dedication to educating the whole child, and gritty implementation of project-based learning.

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We arrived in early June and built out our shop/studio space. While space is tight, we will have enough room to accommodate two classes of 25 10th-grade students, and an advanced class of about 15 over the course of the day. The desks from Bertie came with us, and we set up the laser cutter, table saw, a few other saws, a slew of hand tools, and have access to our welding equipment in a shipping container outside the classroom door. The obligatory “Design. Build. Transform.” graphic is plastered at the back of the classroom, stenciled across sheets of steel which we will use as magnetic pin-up space for student work.


On August 25th, the school hosted a family orientation day, during which we recruited a few students and families (and teachers!) to help beautify the high school campus. Last year, when there were only 6th and 9th grade classes, the school was housed in one building, but this year, as 200 students in 2 grades are added, the high school has moved a few blocks away to its own campus. We had quickly designed some concrete tube-cast planter boxes and seating, which we poured on site into 20″-wide Sonotubes (the same tubes we used for the farmers market foundation footers in Bertie County). Parents, students, and our fellow teachers got dirty pouring pods of five units, and by the end of the afternoon, we had created a nice open space outside of the high school buildings for students to congregate during breaks and lunch. More than anything, we were humbled by the support of the REALM community who worked through their Saturday afternoon to help beautify their school grounds.

The first day of school arrived quickly (August 29th!), and as Director of Design for the school, and Matt in a full-time Studio H teaching position, we led the entire school of 400 students through a 3-day Design Challenge. In its commitment to project-based learning, REALM hosts quarterly design challenges for students, each of which asking the student body to look, figure out, and produce. To kick off the year, we wrote the following challenge: “How might we get our hands dirty?” Students had one full day and two half-days to ideate, prototype, and produce a solution for their school or community, using a structure that aligned with both the school’s culture of Love, Grit, Action, and Studio H’s Design, Build, Transform. tenets.


As an advisor, my group of 6th grade girls produced a school cookbook (above) with “unexpected recipes” like breakfast pizza and sweet tamales. Other groups produced videos or educational raps. Mr. Young prototyped a “Bring Your Pet to School Day,” including rats and a chihuahua. At the high school, Matt’s advisory built a wipe-out obstacle course (hilarious video below). The goal of the Design Challenge is to go through the design process and creatively problem-solve, but also to exercise the creative muscle, nurture crazy ideas, and then make sure them come to life in some form.


Following the first three days of Design Challenge, we started regularly scheduled classes, with two class periods of Studio H, 25 students per period, for a semester. We also have a third class of advanced students, who will take Studio H for the full school year and work on a larger-scale housing project for the community. Other projects will range from public furniture to rock climbing hand-holds, hand-made sketchbooks laser-cut with individual graphics, school signage, and cardboard enclosures. We’re so excited to have students in the classroom again. Stay tuned for more next week as we dive into the first projects.

And, read a recently published article in the local Berkeleyside paper, titled “New program at REALM School gets students’ hands dirty.”


Studio H is a public high school "design/build" curriculum that sparks rural community development through real-world, creative projects. By learning through a design sensibility, applied core subjects, and "dirt-under-your-fingernails" construction skills, students develop the creative capital, critical thinking, and citizenship necessary for their own success and for the future of their communities.


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