By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
What is the Mid-continent Oceanographic Institute (MOI), and what is it doing at 2388 University Ave. W.–in the heart of the Midway district and the great Midwestern plains?
Now in its fourth school year of operation, MOI is considered the Twin Cities’ premier portal for youth-focused creative writing programs and homework help. The goal of the organization is to encourage kids aged 6-18 to become captains of their own stories, writing skills, and imaginations.
According to Executive Director Chad Kampe (photo left), “We made a lot of progress reducing educational disparities in the Twin Cities in 2015-16. We served 1,417 students through our educational programming, published our first Young Author’s Book Project, worked with 32 partner schools, and 176 volunteers.”
All of MOI’s programs are available at no cost to students and families. Their staff is dedicated to helping any young person who needs it.
“We offer after-school homework help Mon.-Thur. from 3-6pm,” Kampe said. “This is where we use most of our volunteers, and they can come for as little as a 90-minute shift, or stay for the whole three-hour period. In addition to tutors, we welcome volunteer illustrators, event planners, and committee members. We offer volunteer orientations frequently.” Email the center’s training and evaluation coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.”
A former elementary school teacher at the St. Paul Friend’s School and the Jewish Day School, Kampe understands the value of strong writing skills. “More and more, funding for creative writing in the schools is being cut,” he said. “With the continued emphasis on testing, there are fewer resources and less time devoted to developing the writing process. At MOI, we’ve created a sort of ‘third space,’ which is neither home nor school. It’s a fun place for kids to come because creativity is at the heart of everything we do here.”
MOI is modeled after a learning center created by Dave Eggers, an author who jettisoned himself to fame with the publication in 2000 of his memoir, “A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius.” Following the success of his book, Eggers created the first of seven learning centers across the country to encourage young people to build their writing skills and to help teachers inspire their students to write. Each of the learning centers in Eggers’ network boasts a quirky theme: pirates, time travel, robots, spies, and here in St. Paul, the Midwest’s one and only oceanographic institute.
Walking into the offices of MOI is like walking into the hull of an ocean-going vessel. There are diving helmets, sailor hats, shells, nets, and other ocean paraphernalia spread throughout the writing area. Staff communicates with walkie talkies, and there is no shortage of nautical lingo tossed around. It’s common to be greeted with a friendly “ahoy,” and Kampe is referred to as “the captain.”
MOI aspires to eventually become a learning center under the auspices of Eggers’ organization, which iscalled 826 National. Chapters presently exist in San Francisco, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and Washington DC.
“We’re in conversation with the 826 National expansion committee to transform and grow our program in the next few years,” Kampe said.
In addition to the tutoring that takes place on-site, MOI staff travel to schools in the community where more than 50% of the student body qualify for free or reduced lunch. This year they’re at Como High School every Tuesday and Thursday for two class periods, working with teacher Risa Cohen and her students on a year-long book project based on personal identity. The end-result will be a published Young Author’s Book Project, a compilation of the student’s creative writing.
School groups are also able to travel to MOI on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the school year for bookmaking and storytelling field trips. Call 612-367-7827 to learn more about these opportunities.
Two fundraising events are coming up in March to benefit the work of MOI:
• On Wed., Mar. 22, the Turf Club and Trivia Mafia are co-sponsoring a Trivia for Cheaters Fundraiser; pre-party starts at 6:30pm, and event from 8-10pm at the Turf Club. You can register your team at www.moi-msp.org.
• On Fri., Mar. 31, the Illusion Theater in downtown Minneapolis is sponsoring an event called “An Hour or So with Dave Eggers and Kate DiCamillo.” The pre-party starts at 6:30pm, and the event starts at 8pm. Ticket price includes a signed book by each author, DiCamillo and Eggers.