What do R2-D2, Rosey the Robot Maid and Amanda Uhle have in common?
It may be different on the planet Na- boo and at the Jetson household, but here in Ann Arbor, droids and humans work together to help kids.
How do they do it?
Just ask Amanda Uhle, the execu- tive director of 826Michigan, a writing and drop-in tutoring center, offered free for children six to 18. Youngsters stop by the center after school and on weekends to create poetry, write songs, pen novels and work on their algebra.
Where do the cyborgs come in?
The Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, a shop with shelves stocked with solar-powered robot kits, waddling me- chanical “ducks” and futuristic Russian nesting dolls, helps fund the center.
It’s really not surprising that purchas- es of wind-up toys and “fridge rovers” pay the bills. The center is all about joyful learning. Kids can sign up for volunteer- taught writing workshops like, “Name that Rune,” a course helping kids trans- late “ancient” runes marked with eerie inscriptions or a mystery writing class, based on the game “Clue.” “We don’t make it punitive or hard,” said Uhle. “We make it fun.”
Many youngsters even have the chance to see their stories in print – and on the shelves of the robot shop. An in- school residence program publishes boys’ and girls’ work in hardbound vol- umes. “These students don’t have a long history of people thinking what they do is important,” said Uhle. “It astounds them in a wonderful way. They do every- thing from screaming and yelling to act- ing profoundly quiet. I think they don’t believe it.” Center kids’ writing may be published in chapbooks and ‘zines.
While high-tech gadgets can be an in- spiration, they can also hold youths back. Opening up kids’ worlds beyond elec- tronic game screens is something Uhle and her husband, a freelance business writer put into practice with their own little girl, age 3.
“We love to tell stories together,” Uhle said. “We try to make writing and storytelling a part of daily life [and] we spend tons of time at the Ann Arbor pub- lic library. We aren’t really TV people.”
Signing up for a workshop or spend- ing time with a tutor at the center can make a big difference to a child.
“We see every day students change their minds about themselves and about writing,” said Uhle. “A young student may come in and say they hate writing and then they come in and open their minds.”
Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair is located at 115 E. Liberty St. For more information about 826Michigan, visit www.826michigan.org.
Children: daughter Beatrix, 3, and stepdaughter elizabeth, 17
Favorite Book: "the writer richard Ford has always been a favorite. his new novel, Canada, is stellar.”
Parenting Motto: "my constant hope is that i'm not setting my own agenda for my daughters, which would interrupt the great honor and pleasure of watching their own
independent lives take shape."
Favorite Places to take the kids in Ann Arbor: "Beatrix and i can't get enough of the ann arbor district library. We go every sunday and load up on new books to read for the week. We're also big fans of the leslie science and nature Center; she is an owl devotee."
De-stress Tip: "the best way to unwind for me is to turn off all electronics and enforce some quiet time on myself. if i can combine that with a vigorous walk at County Farm Park, that's the best solution."