Gerald “Max” Bell is on a mission to teach Dallas elementary school students how to work with their hands. He’s partnered with several DISD schools to bring the excitement of Maker Spaces to young children. At a time when the focus at many public schools is teaching children how to take tests, programs like this, that encourage creativity, have the potential to make a huge impact on the lives of students.
Bell’s Maker Club started out as an after school program. He noticed the discrepancy between the education goals of many school districts, and the needs of businesses. “Employers can’t find enough candidates with hard skills. Millennials don’t know how to use tools. They can’t fix anything.” Max decided to do something about it. He partnered with his daughter, who is a Junior in the Dallas school district, to create Maker Spaces at campuses, and to work with students after school. “We started with rocket building, simple electronics, and claymation, and the students were extremely receptive.” Bell has received universal praise for his efforts, from school officials, parents, and especially students. He hopes to expand his operations, and include other Maker activities, like 3D printing. If he continues to receive support from DISD, and is able to recruit the necessary volunteers, Dallas could soon be bustling with creative energy from all the miniature Makers he’ll be working with.
Programs like Bell’s Maker Club are often the only way students are able to get this type of training. Metal and woodshop classes have been cut from a large number of schools across the nation. Citing a desire to prepare students to be able to participate fully in the first-year programs at Universities, some districts have completely done away with these types of courses. Bell isn’t the only one concerned with this trend. John Ratzenberger, famous for his role as Cliff on the television series Cheers, and for voicing characters in every Pixar film to date, is a huge advocate for reintroducing these types of classes to schools. He recently donated one million dollars, through his Foundation for America organization, to the State of Georgia, which they’ll use to reinstate shop classes. In an interview, Ratzenberger discussed the importance of being self reliant, and the value of learning a trade. He suggested it could reduce poverty, saying, “Get yourself a skill that nobody can take from you, and anywhere in the World, you can get a job. Anywhere on the planet.” Max Bell has a smaller target in mind. He hopes that the work he’s doing will allow students to learn a trade, which will help them find jobs right here Dallas.