By CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA | Reporter

Palisadian kids have an overwhelming amount of options when it comes to picking a summer camp that captures their attention—from technology and video games to outdoor activities like sports and hiking.

For those looking to keep their hands occupied while learning a new skill and saving the environment, reDiscover has set out to teach students hands-on building with sustainable materials, and gaining some recognition in the process.

Founded in 2003, the program aims to help kids pick up that boring piece of plywood and take another look at old materials with excitement to make something new.

Creators of the program realized there were no practical options for people to donate waste that had “viability as art material and could displace costly and often wasteful retail art supplies.”

Jonathan Bijur with Fernando Zarvos

Today, reDiscover nurtures the creative minds of over 10,000 kids and 3,000 adults and is the only nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that offers this type of creative programming, according to their website. The team has also launched Tinkering School LA.

With a 2,500-square-foot lot in Culver City, the program is able to give a blank canvas to ideas that might not fit in a regular classroom or science lab, and teaches children how to safely use power tools and basic construction methods—all with environmentally sustainable practices.

“We’ve had a bunch of kids from the Palisades come to that camp since the beginning,” said Jonathan Bijur, executive director of the reDiscover Center.

He describes tinkering programs as a place that gives elementary school kids power tools, scrap lumber and recycled material to inspire the designers, architects and engineers of tomorrow.

When Palisades Charter Elementary School took notice of the program, they quickly invited reDiscover to their campus to open a design lab and fill it with tools to facilitate daily classes for the 2018-19 school year.

Students then come in for weekly classes to create everything from skyscrapers to mechanical sculptures, Bijur said.

“We’re very child centered in the ideas and the projects that get built,” Bijur said. “We, more than most maker camps, will create an environment where kids can make stuff on their own and to follow their ideas as far as they can go.”

For the first time, the class became a one-week summer camp this year, teaching students from all schools the environmental practices of the program. Students then present their creations to the class and parents at the end of the week, and explain the thought process behind what they’ve made.

Gracie Gregson-Williams

“The parents are amazed to see what was possible … We kept hearing, “I have never seen anything like this, this is new,’” Bijur said when describing the response he gets from parents who attend the final presentation.

For reDiscover, the intention of hosting a summer camp goes far beyond giving parents a place to stash their kids for the summer, but to help recycle the several tons of material that go to waste everyday and instill these practices in students.

“We are looking to raise a generation of Angelenos who are creative, socially responsible and environmentally conscious,” Bijur said.

They hope to teach kids that they don’t need to buy new materials for a project, but instead improvise with materials found in a scrap bin or no longer used around the house. If a reusable water bottle springs a leak, perhaps it can become a robotic arm or part of a reusable structure, instead of becoming waste.

“If you learn how to repair something, then you don’t have to go cut down a tree and make a new table,” he said, which in turn reduces the amount of waste going into landfills or incinerators. “We find communities who want that for their kids and go from there.”

For Gary Saunders, principal of Pali Elementary, the learning opportunity for his students is invaluable and in line with his efforts to give students access to anything they might want to learn about.

“The idea for us, and the great thing about the camp, is we want students to be prepared for any type of job they can have in 20 years from now,” Saunders said. “There’s going to be thousands of jobs that haven’t even been invented yet and our job is to prepare them for those opportunities.”

As the process begins to bring the camp back for its second year, Saunders is confident that tinkering camps are the kind of summer camps he wants to be a part of providing for Palisadian children.

“Both our students and outside students were just so grateful that this was an opportunity,” he said. “The fact that we got this in the Palisades is really good for this community.”