Our Radical Agenda


When BBS Muz posted on our Facebook page, she talked about why The BBSC is so important to her:

You should donate because this isn’t any standard program. This program it is not run by adults. The kids run the program, and this is good because this shows the kids how it is in the real world. We also teach S.T.E.A.M, and we teach the kids to ask specific questions. “I need help!!”, you can say it, but you got to be specific.

This is an important program for me because it shows girls that S.T.E.A.M is for all genders. I didn’t believe this till i came to Big Brains.

In the beginning, it seems simple and straightforward enough. You see a bunch of kids doing not much of anything fantastic outside of school, and you ask them what it would take to get them doing something fantastic. They tell you. You then bring your own interests and caveats to the table. Negotiations ensue. Fantastic stuff starts to happen. Done and done.

Or so it seems.

Starting off this thing as an all-volunteer endeavor—everyone pitching in their own time and resources—is what made it possible in the first place. We were lucky. But luck doesn’t necessarily last. Or scale. So, off we go in search of outside resources.

Lucky again, the first grant application we had ever written was approved by Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund. Of course, this isn’t money to just make fantastic stuff happen. This is money for a project, planned out a year in advance, with outcomes specified a year in advance. Money that we needed to match with our own time and resources. Still. Money!

Thanks to the City of Seattle Community Technology Program (and SparkFun and Google and Blucora and several other places) for tools and materials and to Yesler Community Center for program space, we started to build our STEAM lab. Still all volunteers, still all doing fantastic stuff outside of school.

And apparently, in this case, “if you build it, they will come,” is for real. More and more Big-Brained Superheroes were coming to do fantastic stuff after school. The extent of our outreach was showing up and talking to the kids in the hall. Mostly asking them math problems. That’s it.

As demand grew, our search for resources grew more intense. We formed a board full of Yesler moms and BBSC volunteers. We checked all the items off the list: 501c3 status—check, Washington State business licenses—check, insurance and bookkeeping services—check and check. And all that stuff required was more time and money. Money! Thanks to the Satterberg and Norcliffe foundations, we got that stuff done.

But we still need to run a program four days a week.

So, off we go in search of more resources. And the more we search, the more we fully realize why there aren’t more Big-Brained Superheroes Clubs throughout the land. It’s not as if no one’s thought of this before. Problem: not enough fantastic stuff happening. Solution: Talk to people, make fantastic stuff happen. Achievement unlocked. Ironically, that’s the part that seems the most obvious to everyone. The part that few seem to get down is finding the resources to keep it going.

And our first successful grant yields a clue: project. Project project project. Everyone loves projects! We’ve done lots and lots of projects. Projects planned years in advance even. With outcomes set years in advance even. But when we go back to what Big-Brained Superheroes like Muz love best about The BBSC, it’s:

This program it is not run by adults. The kids run the program, and this is good because this shows the kids how it is in the real world.

Muz is eleven years old. The thing that, to her, makes The BBSC special is that eleven year-olds like her get to come in and, through various negotiations and caveats, make their own decisions about their own fantastic projects. Any eleven year-old that can meaningfully define a project and set outcomes a year in advance is an eleven year-old that has no need for The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. Muz’s independent projects are not getting supported by project grants anytime soon.

And that, among many other reasons, is why Big Brains like Muz need you! Muz’s radical agenda is to have the tools, resources, and support she needs to pursue her interests and develop her superpowers. She’s not in The BBSC to raise her grades or gain workforce skills (though she may be doing those things, that’s not her agenda). She’s in it to do fantastic stuff outside of school. And we’re in it to help her do fantastic stuff outside of school.

We’ve been lucky to find a few organizations (yay BECU!) that support a ‘do fantastic stuff’ agenda. But those are few and far between. And the paradox is that, without this underlying baseline of support, the projects that everyone else wants don’t happen. Our agenda may be radical, but sometimes, being radical is the only way to get the job done.

Please consider supporting The BBSC this holiday season! We promise to make lots of fantastic stuff happen outside of school.