Build-It Bus brings ‘joy’ of woodworking to Philly schoolkids

Recent decades have seen woodworking and carpentry studies mostly disappear from education programs for kids, whether due to lack of funds or fear of being sued.

To remedy that, enter the Build-It Bus. Woodworker and educator Sherina Poorman designed kid-safe adaptive tools that she has brought to schools and art fairs around Philly about eight years to teach basic carpentry to Philly kids.

But it’s not just educational for kids: artists from the Center for Creative Works (CCW), a vocational/arts center for adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD), who are participating in the Center’s Teacher Corps program, are serving as the Build-It Bus’ teachers and showing students how to use the tools.

“One thing that strikes me a lot is just joy—the kids love doing it,” said Poorman. “I’ve only heard one kid just very straightforwardly ask a question about disability.  Whether they notice or not, they don’t talk about it, they don’t seem to care one way or another.”

Last fall, the Bus brought 20 adaptive scroll saws to teacher Sunnylee Mowery’s class of 34 fourth-graders at Greenfield. Students designed and built their own custom fidget spinners.

“It fries my beans that contemporary kids are being robbed of these kinds of hands-on instruction due to budget cuts,” Mowery said. “This visual display of such a cool project and the idea that, ‘Oh my god! We’re going to get to use saws!’ ignites such a spark that the students are in the palm of the teachers’ hands instantly.”

The Build-It Bus is one of very few programs in the nation in which adults with IDD can teach, even as society increasingly moves further away from past systems of institutionalization and toward independence for this population. According to federal Department of Labor statistics, only about 17.9 percent of people with any type of disability were employed in 2016, compared to 65.3 percent of the general population.

“The concept itself is wonderful, said Kathy Miller, director of Leadership & Career Studies at Temple University, an educational program for adults with intellectual disabilities, of the Build-It Bus. “Everyone has their unique talents and abilities and we all learn differently. Inclusion is the way to go, keeping people separate just creates silos and creates people who are not as understanding of others when they get out to the real world.”

To Cassie Flanagan, 22, a Teacher Corps member who Mowery described as “a natural,” teaching 4th-graders was easy.

“At first they weren’t too sure, but once they started cutting stuff they got really excited,” Flanagan said. “The kids seemed to really enjoy our time with them. It was just fun.”

Currently, the Build-It Bus is currently working with a preschool class, and in April plan to start a new project with home-schooled students through Haverford Friends School.

“We’ve forgotten how easy it is, we say ‘Oh its so complicated or hard or scary or so unsafe,’” Poorman said. “We’re having preschool kids sawing with miter saws. Next week we’re going to have them drilling, and they’re just floored by it, they just love it so much. We forget that a preschool kid can saw.”