Meet Melissa Flaxman
Melissa Flaxman, M. Ed., is many things.
She’s an educational specialist, a children’s special education advocate and the creator of Future Makers LV, a conscious and engaging workshop series for kids. Her heart beats for children in the Las Vegas community, bringing wonder and creative learning to our city’s Future Makers.
Tell me a little bit about Future Makers!
Future Makers is events and classes for kids, as well as [provides] resources for families. It encompasses a lot of what I’ve learned about creating the best place for kids – including everything they would need to create the future. Future Makers really means “we make the future”. The makers movement (which I love) is all about making, and kids are making their own future.
I love it. Is your background working with children?
Well, I have a Master’s Degree in Special Education. I began working with kids when I was in high school at a daycare center and have been working with them on and off ever since.
I was a teacher for Clark County for 13 years doing special education. There, I was working with some students with autism who couldn’t speak, some children who couldn’t care for themselves daily, as well as kids who maybe just needed a little extra help with reading and writing. I was lucky enough to provide service to kids of all ages from all different backgrounds. I also taught Downtown at JD Smith for 10 of the 13 years, so that’s where my heart really lies.
After that, I moved to Faiss Middle School, which is kind of in the suburbs, and from there to a private school. The reason I eventually moved away from teaching was because I felt like I was living in a box.
Future Makers is designed to bring resources and workshops to the underserved, or the kids that maybe wouldn’t have these opportunities otherwise. At the same time, I want to create opportunities for all children so we use the funding that we get from workshops in outer areas of the city to fund the areas where underserved children are living. Future Makers is created to do all of the things schools don’t do, and then to help the schools learn to do those things, too.
Do you work with kids in schools?
I’m trying to stay outside of the system, but actually, a lot of people have been suggesting that to me. What I’ve done in the past with Future Makers is worked with school clubs, so it’s not in the school. We had Mariachis from JD Smith at the first [Fergusons] Market we did, and then we have students maybe from a science club coming to the events. That’s another thing – the children that live Downtown and go to these underserved schools maybe don’t go to Container Park; they maybe don’t even know it’s there. Another part of my heart strings is making these opportunities known and available to kids and then helping their parents either find ways to bring them or make it close enough for them to walk.
That’s amazing. What are some lessons you’ve been learning along this journey, or some challenges you’ve faced being out of CCSD but still trying to reach local children?
Definitely the heat. That’s been a challenge lately. Before summer, it was very easy to pop up anywhere, but in summer it’s very difficult. And the longterm goal is for Future Makers to have a space, so it’s challenging not having one yet. In the meantime, I’m trying to create a Future Maker’s Family. That way when the space opens, the families are already there; they’re already established and ready to move into the space. And then maybe the space will be created more around what’s needed for them.
One of your popup locations is Fergusons’ Market in the Alley, and you’re now also doing Kid’s Brunch for the residents, right? Is it the same program that you’re doing for both?
I always try to do different programs so that maybe we can draw people from the Brunch to also come to the Market. Recently though, I’ve been learning about tinkering with the Exploratorium (I’m taking courses), so the two workshops I’m doing this month are within that series. There are the ‘light up circuits’ and the ‘scribble bots’ so tinkering is kind of where I’m going.
And why do you like making and tinkering as opposed to teacher-led instruction on how-to-make a craft?
Okay, so the Constructionist Theory of Education … what that means is that students are given the tools to create their own knowledge. I’ve always tried to do this in the classroom – especially with students in Special Education. You have to draw the kids into whatever they’re doing. Even if you give them your instructions, they’re going to need to do it their way.
That’s another thing that I’ve found, because teaching Special Education and learning what I learned there, as far as individualizing instruction, is what I’m trying to do now with all of my workshops. What is easiest to do is make. Having a set curriculum and a set of instructions? They go out the window almost immediately. I have to be able to work with whatever student I have in front of me and whatever they might be drawn to (themselves).
You’ve built something recently for Fergusons, right?
The water table, yes. Having 15 years of experience can be overwhelming, so what I have to do is think about the situation. MARKET = HEAT. Okay, so it’s hot. Let’s frame everything around water. How can kids interact with water? And then that’s where the conscious part comes in. Because back in the old days, we would just have a hose, right? We’d run the water all day! So a water table recycles water. That’s the conscious element. What I call consciousness (coming from being a child in the late 70s is like, the consciousness movement): think about what you’re doing. Think hard about what you’re doing. Think about why you’re doing it. How can make it be better? So that’s what I mean when I say, “conscious kids workshops”. It’s thinking about the environment, thinking about how kids are learning and then creating. Like the water table – that encompasses all of that. It’s perfect for the market. I have to consider all of those things when I create and develop ideas. And can I say something about Ferguson’s?
They are so open. They were another reason why I was drawn into this tinkering! I think seeing this robot they have here, being in this environment and seeing these rad makers take it to a whole other level. My thought was: how can I get kids to also take it to that level? And then my ultimate goal is to get these local makers to see what we’re doing and want to teach the kids too.
Woah! So community makers working with kids?
Absolutely. We work with a couple of artists from the Workshop Downtown, and then I work with a science teacher now. It’s just getting these people who have experience in a certain field to share it with kids. As teachers we can’t know everything. The kids think we do sometimes but we don’t. We need to pull in the right people. We need to pull in the experts. And that’s the other goal – to take it to a whole new level – maybe create a light installation, a huge scribble bot! It’s finding makers that want to help kids take it to the next level.
And what would be your ideal vision for Future Makers in five years?
Having a space for the Future Makers Family – a place for workshops and classes, a place to bring the experts and makers to the families and then having resources for the families. That’s another big part of it. I also do consulting and advocacy. I’m an advocate for students in Special Education. I can work with CCSD or whatever school they’re in to make sure they’re getting what they need. I guess Future Makers is really just making sure kids get what they need to then make the future.
And regardless of income, social status, all of those factors, right?
Yes. Regardless of anything. All children. Leveling that playing field. I was a Women’s Studies minor in college, so we learned a lot about that. You know, we’re not born into a level playing field. It’s just not. There are people like us who want to level it though.
What would you say you are rooted in?
Inclusion. We make the future together. We each bring something special and unique to the table that is needed and should be valued. Leveling the playing field increases all of our chances.
“..being in this environment and seeing these rad makers take it to like, a whole other level. My thought was: how can I get kids to also take it to that level? And then my ultimate goal is to get these local makers to see what we’re doing and want to teach the kids too.”
If someone wants to get involved with Future Makers, donate their time to teach the skill that they have- musicians, artists, etc., how would they get in touch with you?
Our Community Feature series is led by Ashley Ayala of Sister House Collective. We’re so excited to have her be a part of our Fergusons community and crafting stories about people at make LasVegas so incredible! Our partnerships are so important to us and we take a lot of time to really dig into the amazing talent right here in our backyard to connect them to us … and you! A big part of our vision is supporting our community and sharing people’s passions and dreams, and doing what we can to help further them! We’re #rootedincommunity and it shines through every decision we make, every person we meet and every idea we work hard to highlight.