At Powderhouse, we believe we grow best when learning, learn best when creating, and create best when creating something which matters to us. We love spending time around people who are doing that, especially when doing that is part of answering big questions like, “Who am I? What do I care about? And what am I going to do about it?”
That’s part of why we are working to design and launch a tuition-free independent school. The Kindling Youth Fellowship offers us a chance to do what we love as well as a sandbox where we can prototype and refine our design. The Kindling Mentor Fellowship is an analogous program we’ve launched to help us prototype and refine our approach to developing the adults who will help us do this kind of work with youth.
The Kindling Mentor Fellowship takes the Youth Fellowship’s focus on pursuing projects of your own design and adds to this an emphasis on:
The Mentor Fellowship is designed to help you take your disciplinary focus, get practical experience learning and facilitating within that focus, and explore the ways in which computation, narrative, and design can enrich work within your discipline.
The fellowship runs from the first weekday of September through the last Friday of May. We meet in person, 10A–5P Monday through Friday, excluding state and federal holidays. Sometimes, your project work may take you out into the world, but remaining present to the group is an important part of the mentor role. In addition to those hours, we expect fellows to dedicate ~5–10 hours per week to independent project work, attending special events, and anything else required to meet deadlines as they arise.
Broadly, the fellowship is organized as a scaffolded transition from working individually to working collaboratively to facilitating others’ work, in parallel with ongoing reflection.
Throughout the program, Mentor Fellows will have dedicated time to do creative projects of their own design. Some of these projects will be done independently and some in collaboration with Youth Fellows as described above. A subset of these projects will respond to the publication themes we come up with together and be developed into publication-ready pieces. This part of mentors’ work mirrors that of youth and we expect will be ~60% of Mentor Fellow’s time.
We anticipate the remaining ~40% of mentors’ time will be split between (a) collaborating with and facilitating youth and (b) critiquing and reflecting on their experience in conversation with Powderhouse staff.
Myles Horton is an educator, civil rights activist, and inspiration of Powderhouse’s. Horton once said, “People say you learn from experiences, [but] you only learn from the experiences that you learn from.” Our design is meant to ensure mentors have firsthand opportunities to learn from youth’s experience as well as their own, offering the space, support, and perspective needed to effectively reflect on and synthesize those experiences.
For us, reflection and critique will take a few different forms, including but not limited to:
Imagine an artist with a background in performance enters the Mentor Fellowship. Their disciplinary focus is performance, and they are looking to deepen their relationship to that discipline by exploring the role that technology and other computational tools can play in augmenting and refining their performances.
In the Mentor Fellowship, they begin by tackling projects of their own design. This fellow begins designing a one-act performance using projection mapping. This involves the use of technology and some basic geometry and coding to control the projectors programmatically. Powderhouse staff scaffold their introduction to these topics and tools.
Youth are impressed by this project, so when the fellow pitches a collaborative project next, four Youth Fellows are excited to join. The group works together to build an installation in a local gallery in which the audience can interact with projected images.
With a growing level of expertise, the fellow designs and runs a projection-related program in preparation for the launch party for the upcoming publication themed around “Secrets”. In it, Youth Fellows create materials for a short, projected introduction to their projects. The fellow stitches these materials together and creates an immersive experience that welcomes attendees to the party and introduces them to the fellows, their projects, and the Secrets theme overall.
Throughout this process, the Mentor Fellow would be:
Overall, this mentor might spend something like (on average) three days a week working on their own projects and a day a week supporting youth (through mentorship, programs, or workshops), and a day a week critiquing and reflecting their experiences.
Throughout the program, mentors will cultivate six competencies, acting as:
Not every mentor will tackle every competency equally. Instead, Mentor Fellows will prioritize and set personalized goals—personal, professional, and project-related—in Personal Roadmaps. These roadmaps are living documents, analogous to those we use with youth and for ourselves, meant to keep track of all your programmatic goals and responsibilities in one place.
By the end of your fellowship, you will be asked to:
We believe new visions for learning require bringing new people into the field because the necessary skills, perspectives, and sensitivities are different than what many of us are used to. A lot of this difference stems from the fact that by definition, the vast majority of us have been immersed in the culture of traditional School: either as students ourselves, parents of students, or members of society absorbing the implicit assumptions embedded in School. Unlearning these takes time. And going beyond that, the constructive, creative skills to develop new tools, experiences, environments, and communities are a whole discipline unto themselves.
Ultimately, what matters most in a learning experience are simply the people in the room and the relationships and work they are building together. We believe that new kinds of institutions are required to develop the tools, materials, and people the future of learning requires. And reinventing these things isn’t a weekend project.
We’ve learned how much work this is (and how enriching this work can be) firsthand over the past 15 years. Most recently, in a previous incarnation, Powderhouse—then called Powderhouse Studios—was working to start a small, unusual high school in Somerville. Because we wanted to ground learning in real work, and real work is interdisciplinary, we had to reimagine what educator licensure would look like. If someone wasn’t teaching “math” or “history” but instead supporting a wide range of interdisciplinary projects, what subject should they be licensed in?
One piece of our answer to this question involved designing a bespoke licensure program approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education focused on the then-nascent Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) Standards. We see technology as central to nearly all creative work. Much as writing cuts across most traditional classes, we aim for our focus on computation, narrative, and design to unify the projects people tackle. Whether you’re telling stories, using design software to make illustrations, analyzing data, or programming simulations, digital tools and computational approaches are center stage.
While our current Mentor Fellowship is not a DLCS licensure program, it is an opportunity for us to continue prototyping the designs and structures we put together as part of that program, evolving our eventual answer to how we develop adults to do our kind of work.
In the future, Powderhouse aims to offer an experimental, longer format of the fellowship for those with a particular interest in education.
This extended format will require at least two years of work, affording an opportunity to more deeply engage the learning-related aspects of our work, focusing on lines of inquiry including specializations like:
These issues are central to Powderhouse’s work; the extended fellowship will invite people to join us as peer investigators and designers exploring these questions from an under-represented viewpoint: the foundational belief that people grow best when learning, learn best when creating, and create best when creating something which matters to them.
The extended fellowship will take a similar form to the shorter-format fellowship, but in addition to the portfolio, annotations, and design critique, fellows will be asked to develop and defend a thesis aligned with their specialization.
Those interested in this extended format will join the shorter-format Fellowship and develop projects aligned with their specialization, presenting a proposal subject to Powderhouse’s review to extend their fellowship by the end of their first year with us.
If you’re interested in participating in this Extended Fellowship, please apply to the Mentor Fellowship and be sure to mention your interest in the Extended Fellowship in your application materials.
If this sounds like work that aligns with your skills, interests, and experience, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're still building out our application process, but we'd love to hear from you if this project resonates.