By Suzanne Vanderhoef
There’s a new program for middle school girls in St. Louis that combines two seemingly unrelated things: literacy and hands-on building.
It’s called LitShop, and the free after-school and summer program is literally a combination shop class and book club.
That unusual pairing is the brainchild of Kelly Best-Oliver.
“It is a weird combination, and I get that a lot, because a lot of the movement around something like this would kind of tie into STEM, and that stuff comes up naturally,” says Best-Oliver, the founder of LitShop. “The girls doing measurements, they’re doing engineering-type things, and so STEM’s a natural connection. But what we know about girls, is that girls are drawn to a narrative. So in my mind, we pair those two things because we may have girls who are bookworms and need some encouragement to get out of that sphere that they’re comfortable in, so tying that book club to the hands-on building and making gets them into a different opportunity and area that they wouldn’t have explored. And vice versa.”
Kelli, an educator and former curriculum coordinator for St. Louis Public Schools, got the idea while in Berkley, California as part of a fellowship called Girls Garage that puts real tools in girls’ hands and fosters an environment where they feel empowered. After noting that shop class is not offered as an option in many St. Louis area schools, she decided that needed to change.
“I want girls to feel empowered by being able to fix things and make things and build things and be able to use tools,” explained Best-Oliver. “And there were girls who were empowered just by using a hand saw.”
“My dad’s really into woodworking, but I barely ever get to help him with it,” said 7th grade LitShop participant. “So this would be a good opportunity to just walk up to him and be like, hey, can we build something? And I would have the skills to do it.”
And besides learning new skills, the girls say they think they’re helping deliver a bigger lesson to an even greater audience.
“I think it’s like important for girls to learn how to do these type of things,” explained 8th grader Ashton Davis. “Because sometimes people underestimate what we’re doing because we are girls.”