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Bring out the paintbrushes and hammers — arts and science camp begins

on June 24, 2010

A student learns how to use a saw in the carpentry class.

On an outdoor deck overlooking Lake Merritt, kids are busy sawing, hammering and sanding wood. An instructor walks around helping kids hammer nails into blocks of wood and shows others how to properly hold a saw. “They learn how to safely use hand tools,” says Bill Bocheff, the carpentry instructor for the Junior Center of Art and Science, “and also cooperation, how to share space and behave politely.”

Carpentry is just one of the classes offered at the Junior Center of Art and Science during its summer arts and science camp, which just kicked off on Monday. The Junior Center of Art and Science is an independent non-profit organization that has been in Oakland for 55 years and works to use a hands-on approach in teaching kids about science and art. Over the next two months the center will offer 40 classes that last one to two weeks in subjects such as cartooning, drawing, dance and movement and rockets and robots.

Simon Lunche stands next to the beginnings of his launch ramp.

Simon Lunche, an 11-year-old taking the carpentry class, is building a skateboard launch ramp. Wearing a baseball hat and safety goggles, Lunche measures the pieces of wood that will become the sides of the ramp and saws them in a half-circle. “I’m just beginning,” he says, and then goes on to explain how he plans to build the ramp with 2x4s and plywood. He has taken the carpentry class several times and says he was just five or six years old when he first started coming to the center. “I have already built a half pipe and two fun boxes,” he says, referring to types of skateboard obstacles. “It’s really fun to build them.”

The Junior Center of Art and Science serves 35,000 children every year. Not only does it hold classes at its center on Lake Merritt, it also has an extensive outreach program where instructors go into 100 classrooms a year and help teachers supplement their art and science programs. “We try to show teachers they can have a lesson in one period,” says Tammara Katsikas, the executive director of the Junior Center of Art and Science. “When we go back to the classrooms a year later, there is nothing we like better than seeing a teacher doing the same art lessons themselves.”

During the school year, instructors from the center also give bigger art and science workshops in Oakland’s schools. They also try to use science and art to help kids better understand other subjects like history or math. One of the rooms in the center is the Science and Nature Lab; in this room there are live animals for the kids to see and learn about, including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, fire-bellied toads, corn snakes and a leopard gecko. “Our animal ambassador is a tortoise named Gary who loves people,” says Katsikas. “Those animals travel into the schools with our teachers.”

The Junior Center of Art and Science is located right on Lake Merritt.

As funding in schools get cut, Katsikas says programs like theirs become increasingly important. “Field trips are harder to do and they’re asking us to come to schools,” she says. Much of the center’s budget comes from donations, grants, tuition and fundraisers, but some of its funding is from city arts grants. During the Oakland City Council’s April 1, 2010 budget discussion, the council talked about cutting city arts grants by fifty percent, but there was strong opposition among most council members and they postponed the final vote for another meeting. In this Thursday’s city council meeting some cuts for arts funding will be discussed but it’s unclear if it will affect the center’s funding. “We’re hoping they’ll maintain the funding,” Katsikas says. “We want to provide a place where every child can have the opportunity to explore and create.”

The next session of classes starts July 5. Classes being offered include the art and science of ice cream and life drawing. Tuition for the classes ranges from $135 for one week of half-day sessions to $604 for a two-week all-day session. The center also offers a limited number of need-based scholarships for those students who cannot afford the full tuition. Anyone can drop by the center and visit the animals at 558 Bellevue Ave, Oakland.

Lead image: A watercolor painting by a student in the drawing and painting class.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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