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Zepf Center Program Puts Focus on Tinkering


Imagination Station has entered into a unique partnership with the Zepf Center, a behavioral healthcare resource in Toledo for more than 40 years, and it all came out of a simple question: How can the science center use tinkering to help Zepf Center kids in a way that will fit their needs?

The answer was a tinkering program funded by the David C. and Lura M. Lovell Foundation Designated Fund of the Toledo Community Foundation, on site at Imagination Station, to supplement the Zepf Center’s after-school programming for ages 7 – 13.

The goals of the program are simple but character-shaping: offer an environment that welcomes diverse audiences; encourage visitors to embrace risk and failure and to develop persistence and grit; and instill creative confidence and promote personal expression. Students meet at Imagination Station for four sessions. Three of those sessions involve tinkering projects, and the final session is pure play, with students getting full access to explore and discover all of Imagination Station.

The activities are engaging and keep the students focused on the work at hand. Problem-solving and persistence are also skills that the students develop while in the program.  Over the course of the sessions, students learn to share ideas, helping other students to solve problems. Mark Leasor, Imagination Station IDEA Lab Coordinator and facilitator of the Zepf Center program, explained that he offers encouragement and works with students through the decision-making process. “One student,” Leasor said, “was frustrated, but at the end of the day he had finished the project and was enjoying it. The next time he came in, he engaged right away.”

The benefits of getting out of the center and doing something outside of the box that supports academics are far-reaching.  According to Alicia Boreman-Menke, Director of Youth Programming at Zepf Center, “The benefits of this partnership include not only the unique exposure to science (which may not otherwise be available to this community) but also facilitates a variety of life skills for youth including problem solving, social skills, emotional regulation and academic integration into an enjoyable setting.”

The team continues to track the progress made by the students. The results will provide valuable information on how to better serve the diverse needs of our community, but after hearing from a student, “I like science. I’m good at it,” Leasor is confident they are on the right track.