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For kids, Greenwich Library's Innovation Lab is about learning, 'but the fun aspect definitely takes

By Tatiana Flowers for Greenwich Times

GREENWICH — She is just 12, but Caroline Murphy is already aware of how her peers constantly check their cellphones. But at Greenwich Library’s new Innovation Lab, Murphy says the kids are focused and engaged — and they are curbing their cellphone use.

“The other kids think it’s cool and different,” Murphy said of the new spot, also known as the makerspace, where visitors can explore science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics concepts, known as STEAM.

“It’s better than being locked up in a house or on video games or something like that,” she added. “At least here, you could create something different and unique.”

A rising seventh-grader at Central Middle School, Murphy visits the makerspace every Tuesday as part of the summer program for elementary and middle school students at Greenwich-based Barbara's House There, the kids are encouraged to use their STEAM skills to design and create objects — coffee mugs, key chains and jewelry, for example.

“It gives our kids a chance to experience something that, frankly, only the wealthiest private schools provide,” Gaby Rattner, executive director at Barbara's House, said of the new Innovation Lab.

Rattner visited the makerspace Tuesday morning with several students in the Barbara's House summer program who were busy designing key chains.

Others who use the makerspace have created bird houses and dog tags, said Vanessa Harrington, the Innovation Lab coordinator.

“At Innovation Lab, the goal is to provide access to emerging technologies. Most people can’t find emerging technology access elsewhere,” Harrington said.

“So, things like laser cutters and 3D printers, are only usually found — at this kind of quality — at the finest schools and universities,” she added. “So, giving the community access to those types of tools is really helpful in keeping people competitive.”

The makerspace can be used for free by anyone with a Greenwich Library card, Harrington said. A total of 60 people are registered for an online program with the library to learn how to create laser-engraved jewelry.

The Innovation Lab was among the $18 million in renovations completed at the Greenwich Library during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other improvements include a new reading room, children’s room and café.

For the Barbara's House kids, who just participated in their third week at the Innovation Lab, they can increase their knowledge of emerging technologies and take home a project they created. Harrington, their teacher in the makerspace, said students are expected to take their work home and discuss it with their families.

On Tuesday, students used Canva, a graphic design platform, to create their key chains. Next week, they’ll tried Tinkercad, a different software program used in the first step of creating 3D printed designs for objects, Harrington added.

Students who master these kinds of skills with Canva could get jobs in marketing, social media or graphic design, she said. With Tinkercad skills, they could get work in engineering, architecture or industrial design.

“The goal is to just spark people’s imaginations (and) get them interested,” Harrington said.

Although the students in the Barbara's House summer program are learning tough subjects like science and technology, they seemed to view the Innovation Lab as a place where they have fun.

“They understand, for the most part, that it’s science, but the fun aspect definitely takes over,” said Kelly Milanowski, a social worker for Barbara's House.

“It’s a very enriching program and it’s really opened my eyes to see how much potential these kids really have, to grow and to look at their future, and see what they’re really able to do,” she added.

Rachael Zazula, a 9-year-old going into fifth grade at the International School at Dundee, agreed. She wore a bracelet inscribed with her name, a planet, a peace sign and a cat with hearts for eyes.

Asked why she chose the planet as a design, she said, “Because I don’t want to stay on this Earth. It means I want to go to outer space.”

Her goal, she said, is to become an astronaut and she believes the experiences in the makerspace will help her meet her goals.

“I think it’s useful because they’re telling you to be creative about what you do,” she said. “If you don’t have any creativity, the world is so boring.”

Allison Jimenez, left, and Diyanara Correa look at 3D printed objects at the Greenwich Library Innovation Lab in Greenwich, Conn. Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Students from the Greenwich-based social services nonprofit Barbara's House are visiting the Innovation Lab every Tuesday as part of the Barbara's House Summer Program. They're free to create and experiment with many advanced tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters and engravers, VHS to DVD converters, and much more.

[email protected] @TATIANADFLOWERS


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