Suhani Dhawan envisioned her summer would be filled with fun new outdoor camps, playing with her friends in the park, producing videos for her YouTube channel and of course choreographing new dances.
But when everything went virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions, Suhani realized her summer was likely going to be spent indoors and might not be as much fun as she had planned. This was a major concern for her dad, Varun Dhawan, too.
“When school went online, I was worried about what Suhani’s summer would look like,” said Varun. “Most of her camps were transitioning online, and I could tell that she’d spent her whole day in front of a screen, which she would love to, but as a parent I wasn’t too excited. I wanted her to learn and get involved in new skills, but COVID-19 made it hard to find what I was looking for.”
In May, Varun received a parent newsletter about Learn2Build’s summer project kits from St. Anthony Middle School in Minneapolis.
Learn2Build is a summer program for students in grades 4-9 that is filled with exciting activities focused on the construction building trades industry.
In a usual summer camp format, kids would work individually and in teams to learn about construction concepts and designs and build take-home projects replicating “real-world” construction materials and processes. This summer, the Construction Careers Foundation, a Twin Cities nonprofit that supports Learn2Build, developed summer project kits for young students to create and explore careers in construction from their homes through hands-on activities.
“I read the email and thought – finally, an activity – something hands on for her to make and create,” Varun said. “I signed her up the same day and we were optimistic and excited to receive our first kit.”
The kit was home delivered and it had everything she needed to start working on her project.
Suhani’s first kit taught her how to build a birdhouse. Over the summer, Suhani completed three kits including a mock-tiling project and a geodesic dome built out of newspaper – all from her living room.
“Each kit is construction focused,” said Mary DesJarlais, director of the Learn2Build program. “With every project, students such as Suhani gain a better understanding of construction-related careers and how to use tools while they apply math skills by measuring or learn about real-world science topics like climate change and heat.”
Suhani easily read the kit directions and applied her own mathematics and science skills to each project. But there was one surprise in each kit that left Suhani eager to apply for another one.
“When I received my Learn2Build kit, it was the first time I held real tools,” Suhani said. “It was empowering because I had never seen women in construction before, I didn’t know that was an option for me or that I could be good at it.”
For Varun, these kits were not just DIY projects but a means of empowerment for girls such as Suhani by teaching them that nothing is impossible for them if they put their heart into it. He said the summer projects also help break stereotypes around some professions and interests being known as ‘men-only’ careers.
“When Suhani picked up those tools, I could just see her confidence grow,” Varun said. “I could see a spark in her eyes when she’d open the next kit. As a father, I loved that moment, and I knew she was ready to take on the new challenge.”
Suhani documented her experiences with the Learn2Build kits by having her father photograph each project. She even made a YouTube video about building her first birdhouse.
“A lot of my friends subscribe to my YouTube channel and when they saw I made a birdhouse, they couldn’t believe it,” Suhani said. “They said, ‘you made that, that’s so cool’ and asked me to teach them.”
Suhani’s friends’ reactions to the projects made her even more excited to apply for additional kits.
“I’ve told all my friends about Learn2Build – I really hope they have more projects for afterschool activities, or even if I could get them all year,” Suhani said. “It’s so fun to make things and I miss that most about not being in school, I can’t see my friends and I can’t create things with my hands.”
For more information about Learn2Build or to apply for a kit, contact Mary DesJarlais at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“These projects were the best part of my summer,” Suhani said. “I hope other girls try out these projects too. When I go to high school, I want to do construction classes and learn more about architecture and design.”
Her father expressed similar thoughts. “I loved documenting her projects this summer,” Varun said. “It was a great way for us to bond and we could be flexible and work on the kits during the week or even on the weekends to entertain ourselves.”
The Learn2Build program is made possible through the support of the Opus Foundation.