Diving Deep Into Learning

In March, Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute (MOI) opened it doors to visitors of all ages to host the Creative Enterprise Zone’s monthly “We Make It Here” happy hour.  An educational nonprofit, MOI has a diverse corps of volunteers that take a creative approach to helping students ages 6 to 18 with writing and homework.

Artist Coal Dorius’ bold artwork extended MOI's creative learning and undersea theme beyond the building’s walls out onto the street. The attention-getting artwork hinted to passersby just how creative, fun and adventurous learning is in the building.

Take, for example, MOI’s free “field trips” for second through fourth-grade classes.  Every Wednesday and Friday, MOI’s captain, who claims to be underground searching for Minnesota's lost oceans, greets a crew of students via walkie talkie.But the captain has been unsuccessful and needs a book to ease the boredom. So the class is tasked with creating one explains executive director Chad Kampe. 

Halfway through the process, the captain returns: “You’re only making me one book. I need [insert number of students present] books!” So each student writes his or her own ending. The completed books are bound for the students to take home. Author, author! “One student said afterward that he wanted to have his birthday party at MOI,” Kampe recalls. “Little do they know they’re having fun writing and drawing and creating (they may be doing something similar at school and complaining about it).”

MOI moved into the corner building at Raymond and University “because its right in between St. Paul and Minneapolis,” Kampe says. “Since we serve under-resourced students in both districts we wanted an easy, accessible spot that schools, individual students and our tutors could get to. It’s on the Green Line.

MOI is currently working with Farnsworth Aerospace Upper School in St. Paul on a book of essays driven by the prompt, “Up Up and Away.” St. Paul novelist Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, is writing the introduction. James recently appeared with Eggers at a MOI fundraiser.

MOI also provides free homework help after school, which is supported through various foundations. And students can visit MOI’s library and check out books, discovering—as one student did—Dr. Seuss for the first time: The next day, she brought her parents with her.

“Our activities all have an academic edge, but creativity is part of them,” Kampe says. Minnesota consistently reports one of the largest educational opportunity gaps between racial groups in the country. MOI strives to mitigate this gap by developing creative and equitable opportunities where no student’s idea is too weird, too outlandish or too off-topic to be explored.

“We hope the students take what they’ve learned to create positivity,” Kampe says, “and become the next generation of leaders in the Twin Cities.”

By Camille LeFevre