Katie Ochoa at the podium with several of the speakers and youth ambassador emcee Mearah “MiMi” Smith (far right) sitting around her. 

Increasing Transformative Learning Opportunities to Close Equity Gaps Statewide

PROVIDENCE, RI – One of the best decisions Katie Ochoa said she ever made was joining FabNewport, the nonprofit that has helped thousands of youth access programs and activities that they may not have encountered without the equity- and learner-centered organization and its partners. This year, it is celebrating 10 years of existence. 

She was in sixth grade then. She is now a 12th grader at Paul Crowley East Bay MET Center, a  high school in Newport.

“There was a coding afterschool program that allowed me to explore my interests and get involved with something that I was passionate about,” Ochoa told a full crowd today inside South Providence Library. The press conference, led by youth ambassador emcee Mearah “MiMi” Smith, served as the kickoff event for FabNewport’s anniversary and the unveiling of its next chapter and Positive Future Visions campaign. 

In addition to coding, Ochoa learned how to bike, sail and “build up my confidence and crawl out of my shell. Whenever I was with someone from FabNewport, they cared about me and about my future. That is something not enough youth of color get, and I am so grateful.”

Another speaker, Joe Wilson Jr., Director of Providence’s Department of Art, Culture and Tourism (ACT) talked about the transformative opportunities that occur at FabNewport and PVD Young Makers, the two signature programs that are now operating under the new umbrella entity, FABx. The City is a partner with FabNewport that, with the Providence Public Library, the Community Libraries of Providence and others, makes PVD Young Makers possible. 

“FabNewport has been a critical partner in creating the conditions for art and creativity to exist as a pathway for our youth to imagine and shape their destinies,” said Director Wilson, who wanted to be a lawyer before an acting class in college changed his life. 

He presented a citation from Providence Mayor Brett P. Smiley for the FABx launch and FabNewport anniversary before stating the City’s partnership with them needs to and will continue for years and years to come. 

All the speakers at FABx press conference at the South Providence Library and Providence City Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, who represents Ward 11 and is the Deputy Majority Leader. From left to right: Ellen Pinnock, Katie Ochoa, Director Joe Wilson Jr., Councilwoman Harris, Emcee Mearah “MiMi” Smith, Alin Bennett and FABx Executive Director/Co-Founder Steve Heath

“When we opened in 2013,” Executive Director and Co-Founder Steve Heath said, “the goal was to inspire the maker in all of us. As students returned by choice year after year after year, we learned we had something special.” 

He continued, “Using 3D printers, laser cutters, robotics and other hands-on learning tools, our participants were not just making things. They were also making their lives. All we did was supply the opportunities to awaken the limitless possibilities that everyone should have. Yet ‘limitless’ is hard to fathom when there is inequity at every turn.”  

While FABx programs are filling some of those gaps, Heath said more programs, teachers who care, mentors and especially funding are needed. A fall 2022 survey commissioned by Afterschool Alliance, and released last month, found that more than 3 in 4 program providers are concerned about their long-term funding and their program’s future, including nearly half who are extremely or very concerned.

“What we know is out-of-school time programs offer important learning opportunities for youth,” he said. “Every Rhode Island young person deserves to participate in after school and summer learning.” 

To further prove the need, its Positive Future Visions campaign will collect, curate and communicate the “beautiful ideas about growing their life” and realizing their vision with access to the right resources, opportunities, and relationships. Those interested in having their PFV recorded can find more details at www.gofabx.org

Heath announced they are also going to expand their partnership with Education Reimagined, a national nonprofit organization. Alin Bennett, Education Reimagined’s Vice President of Practice and Field Advancement as well as a Providence native and former principal in the State’s capital, said the mission is to “really show the power of learner-centered education” and  make it available to every single child.

“It is really a world view,” Bennett continued. “It is a different way to see learners learning and the purpose of education, and it is a stark contrast to the conventional dominant system that most students engage in right now.”

Nothing demonstrated the positive difference that a learner-centered education makes more than Ochoa, Smith and another FABx program participant who gave their thoughts to Ellen Pinnock, FabNewport’s Director of Community Engagement, to read today. 

Read Pinnock, “It is hard to find adults in life today, people like you all who accept us because we are human…. When you guys tell us we are special and that we are valuable, we believe it. It’s not just an adult giving us a compliment because we are bad kids. I believe everything that you say, and I appreciate you.”


Photo credit: Kate Whitney Lucey Photography