Humanitarian Design Project Aims to Build a Sense of CommunityShare
A group of high schoolers in Windsor, North Carolina have learned to empower themselves and their community through their own design skills and creativity.
LONDON — On her first day as a teacher at the Bertie Early College High School in Windsor, North Carolina, Emily Pilloton asked the students to name the last thing they had made themselves. “It could have been something as simple as cookies for their moms, but some of the students couldn’t remember ever making anything,” she recalled. “They’d never held a hammer or taken an art class. Half of them didn’t even know how to read a ruler.”
There were 13 students in the class, all 11th graders. Some came from middle-class families, and others lived in poverty, including a 17-year-old who was struggling to raise a 4-year-old child. They had all signed up to spend three hours a day on Studio H, an experimental design course run from a converted car body shop near the school. The course started in August last year and ended this month with the opening of the Windsor Super Market, a farmers’ market housed in a wooden pavilion that the students had designed and built themselves. As a thank you for their efforts, the Mayor of Windsor presented a key to the city to the entire Studio H team.
“We saw the students change from a complete lack of understanding and, in some cases, a complete lack of interest on the first day into amazingly well-rounded creative thinkers and communicators,” said Ms. Pilloton, a humanitarian designer, who conceived and now runs Studio H with the architect Matthew Miller. “They’d each come such a long way and felt much more invested in their local community, having built something permanent that they could be really proud of.”
Despite its successful outcome, Studio H always threatened to be a risky endeavor for Ms. Pilloton, 29, and Mr. Miller, 33, who moved from San Francisco to Windsor to run the course. They had chosen to work in a depressed rural area, scarred by racial tension with severely limited employment opportunities in the belief that a project like Studio H would be of greatest value there. Windsor is in Bertie County, one of the poorest parts of North Carolina. It is also vulnerable to extreme weather. Since moving there, Ms. Pilloton and Mr. Miller have helped with the local relief effort after two hurricanes and a tornado.