A community of learners: Leonardo’s Basement celebrates 10th anniversary

KINGFIELD — Steve Jevning, the founder of Leonardo’s Basement, just celebrated the organization’s 10-year anniversary in November.

Over the past decade, Jevning has strived to evolve the local nonprofit organization into a center to explore creativity.

Leonardo’s Basement, 4301 Nicollet Ave. S, is an educational organization aimed at creating imaginative learning environments in which to explore art, science and technology.

"The single biggest philosophical emphasis for having this program is that I don’t see any reason why we should say ‘no’ to kids that want to do something, and that has stayed constant the past 10 years," Jevning said.

Maintaining this mission throughout the evolution of the program is key to its continued success, he said.

"Because I trust kids and had a lot of experience working with them, I was always most worried about whether we were doing right by the kids," Jevning added.

This is very different than the idea at a lot of schools and youth programs because most other programs make their decisions based on what works well for adults, he said. At Leonardo’s Basement, this mission is achieved by making sure that the kids are able to explore and create freely.

Jevning’s background and experience working with children was the driving force in the nonprofit’s philosophy, he said. "I was trained as a school teacher and never taught, but what I learned is that I loved teaching in some facet and I loved kids," Jevning said.

He student-taught for nearly two years but didn’t feel comfortable or confident in the school setting, he said.

"I identified well with what the school thing was like; there was a lot of activity and interest, but it was still too confining for some kids," he said.

After leaving the elementary school world, Jevning designed and built houses for nearly 20 years. "I was comfortable using tools and solving problems and had a background working with kids," Jevning said.

His combined background in teaching and building was a great foundation to start a program that would be a creative outlet that lots of kids need, he said.  

"I knew how to mold kids’ imaginations and help them create something that was doable for them, no matter their age," Jevning said.

It was when Jevning’s son was attending Barton Open School, that a group of parents got together to create an afterschool program that facilitated hands-on learning. "I would say that the founding group of parents were all willing to make learning work for their individual kid, no matter what style of learning it was," he said.

Jevning used the combination of art, science and technology in a hands-on learning environment to create the program. That is also how they decided to identify a patron that represented the notion — Leonardo Da Vinci.

"The idea of an explorer and someone who was curious and had an inquisitive mind fit with our philosophy and what we wanted kids to understand," Jevning said. "This combined with the idea of a basement being somewhere to explore and create was perfect."

With help from 30 teachers that work throughout the year, and the layout and design of the basement at their current location, Leonardo’s Basement has become a great place for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning, he said.

"We don’t care if kids are distracted by something and end up doing something else because that’s really how they learn," Jevning said. "Because I was confident that kids are competent teachers of themselves, they are encouraged to learn by making mistakes." This is a profound learning tool that is often discouraged at many schools or other youth programs, Jevning said.

"We encourage kids to take risks and not be disappointed when things don’t work out," he added. "Once they learn how to do it on their own, the learning is much richer and deeper and more likely to stick."

Through this learning, Leonardo’s Basement has become a part of the community, he said. "The kids form a community of learners here, and that’s what we were striving for," Jevning said.

Leonardo’s Basement recently started offering classes for adults in a workshop setting. Studio Bricolage is a playful way to do adult projects, he said. Jevning would also like to serve more kids through their teen programs in the future. "Our goal is to do more things that captivate middle school and high school kids," he said.

More information can be found at www.leonardosbasement.org.