Spotlight: Wise Young Builders
At the homepage of the Wise Young Builders website, you’re greeted by a video introducing the organizers and students who make up this summer program. The kids say they want to build houses and cars when they grow up. One talks about how the coolest thing he’s learned how to make is a bookshelf, which he gave to his nephew.
Wise Young Builders offers an alternative look at education by using carpentry to provide children ages 8-15 with real-world application for the theories they learn in the classroom. You may have heard jokes about how useless the Pythagorean theorem is. Founder and Co-Director Elijah Moses argues that people feel that these formulas are useless because schools often teach mathematics in ways that are divorced from practical application, so children aren’t learning how to use it in ways that matter.
“Most students when they come in have no idea how to use a tape measurer,” said Elijah. “Once they learn how to use a tape measurer, they can do a lot of functions around fractions and arithmetic.”
Elijah estimated that over the years there have been around 600-700 students that come through the camp, but this doesn’t include their one-day program that they offered to a larger number of students before the pandemic. The camps have a lot of returning students, as well as younger siblings that come in after seeing what their older siblings have accomplished. Zimriyah Moses, who works as both an instructor and in parent engagement for Wise Young Builders, said that once students age out of the camps, they have the opportunity to come back as interns so they can stay involved.
While the program exposes the students to careers in industries like engineering, construction, and carpentry, Elijah and Zimriyah also recognize that the goal is to give students skills no matter how they decide to use them in the future.
“I don’t believe you give someone information to dictate how you use it,” says Elijah. “The end result of learning should not be to serve an economic goal.”
If they were bigger and had the bandwidth, Wise Young Builders would turn its program into a school, which would be a unique addition to the many existing specialized schools in the D.C. area. They have been offered opportunities to place their programs in different schools, but it’s more of a priority for them to keep the model of the program intact than to expand it.
Right now, their goal is to create a residential camp where students would, “eat building for breakfast, eat building for lunch eat building for dinner, and have math as snacks.” The couple wants to continue exposing students to the world of building and construction, to the point where Zimriyah has requested Elijah figure a way to adapt their classes for Pre-K children. She believes that introducing children to the industry early on will debunk the idea that construction and carpentry are only careers to fallback on if nothing else works out.
“If we can reach those youth, we can really make a dent in generational poverty for those children,” said Zimriyah. “They can understand that this is something lucrative and something that can be enjoyable.”