By Peter Gustafson, Resource Development Specialist
I signed in at 1:07 pm and checking my keys, mobile phone and wallet at the security desk, followed my guide through a metal detector and a series of electronically locked doors.
It was in a gymnasium. The boys and girls, age 14 to 17, entered in small groups of 5 to 10 each. They all had color coded shirts and the same grey elastic waist-band pants with no pockets. White socks and plain white sneakers. Guards in street clothes directed each group to sit in a specific area on the floor. Voices echoed in barks and shouts as more groups entered the high ceilinged room, the energy mounting as additional guards arrived, speaking into hand-held radios, “make sure the blues don’t sit near the greens…”
This was the setting for my team building/engineering/problem solving challenge for about 35 boys and girls who are current residents at the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center here in Manchester, NH. My main focus here at the SEE Science Center is development, but when our educational staff is busy, I’m happy to get out of the office and run a program or two.
Yes, these kids are locked up and probably made some bad decisions recently, and they initially hemmed and hawed when they found that they would be working in teams and building vehicles with LEGO® bricks, but once they got down to business and started to build and test and observe and re-engineer and re-test, things got the best kind of quiet: Quiet interrupted by “oh, let’s try it this way!” and “we need more weight in the back” and “what if we use a longer axle?”. The mood of correctional facility drifted away and these difficult, tough kids quickly transformed into inquiring, inspired young people, working together to solve a problem and reach a goal. And they didn’t want to stop. They wanted to make their vehicles better, faster, run further, run straighter.
And just as quickly as that transformation occurred, it was over. It was back to reality. Shoes off. Hands against the wall. Feet spread apart. Pat-down. “Gotta check for LEGOs in their socks, could be used as a weapon”, the guard told me. They found none.
In August I am scheduled run the classic “egg drop” challenge with this same group of kids. Can’t wait.