Facebook helps build makerspace at East Palo Alto school

Tuesday, May 19, 2015
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Facebook helped build a special place at an East Palo Alto school that teachers say will pave the way to a brighter future for students.

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Some kids in East Palo Alto got a gift Monday morning from their well-known neighbors just around the corner on Hacker Way. Facebook helped build a special place at a local school that teachers say will pave the way to a brighter future for students.

Driving a robot around with an iPad sure doesn't feel like schoolwork. Neither does building machines out of wooden blocks.

"Sometimes it just doesn't work," said one student.

"Thomas Edison, you know, all of those light bulbs that didn't work led to the ones that did," said Ravenswood Schools Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff.

And that's the sort of thinking kids learn in Brentwood Academy's new makerspace.

"It's like a 21st century woodshop," said STEM Lead Coordinator Robert Pronovost. "So students are able to come in and work on whatever interests them."

There are computers, 3-D printers, even Legos.

"It's essentially the ability for student to be creative and express themselves," Pronovost said.

Brentwood's is the second makerspace in a school district that takes nothing for granted.

"We are the little hub of poverty amongst the wealth of the Silicon Valley," said Hernandez-Goff.

Ravenswood City schools serve East Palo Alto and a small corner of Menlo Park that happens to include the sprawling campus of Facebook.

"The students here are our neighbors," said Facebook Community Engagement Manager Susan Gonzales. "It's our responsibility and also it's part of our culture; it's who Mark Zuckerberg is, it's who are as a company, that we are creating strong partnerships with our neighbors."

In 2013, Facebook's founder and his wife announced they would donate $120 million to Bay Area schools. They think facilities like this one, designed with help from Stanford, could level the playing field.

"I mean, who knows, maybe the founder of the next Facebook is right here in these rooms," Gonzales said.

Much of Facebook's contribution has been in the physical building blocks of the makerspace. They donated MacBook Pro laptops and tables and chairs. But Facebook's also donating something else -- time.

"Facebook folks come here and work with our students, do tutoring," said Hernandez-Goff.

Teachers have even visited the Facebook campus and learned to model their classrooms after Facebook's open workspaces.

"This is the community that I grew up in," said East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier. "So this means a lot to me. I was a student here."

Now, the students who follow will be better prepared.

"They can do more than the everyday job," said Gauthier. "They can work in Silicon Valley."