Jennifer Suskovich is not only the kind of teacher you want guiding your children, she’s the kind of teacher you wish you had when you were in fifth grade, dozing into a textbook or doodling on another worksheet. With a keen love of her subject, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and the ability to interest preteens in science, technology, math, and engineering, Jennifer shows HSE youth that the world can be their classroom — and their playground. 

What better environment to bring learning to life than the Hub & Spoke’s Maker Playground – and who better to lead than Jennifer? 

Jennifer Suskovich: Maker Playground Teacher-in-Residence  

If you have or know a middle school child, you know it takes a special person to teach them! Jennifer Suskovich is that person. She’s been teaching in the Hamilton Southeastern School (HSE) district since 2001, engaging fickle attention spans and nurturing curiosity about science, mathematics, and computer science in fifth and sixth graders. 

Experiential, hands-on learning has always been a top priority for Jennifer.  One year, she says, “We had an outdoor space, and I asked students what they wanted to do with it. They were interested in learning about solar panels.” Not only did they connect the classroom to panels with a $12,000 grant Jennifer spearheaded, they graphed how long the energy lasted throughout the day, studied how output changed through the seasons, and explored how to make improvements. 


One student was inspired to go further. She created a panel that moved as the sun moved, allowing it to receive more direct sunlight. This innovation took the prize at the regional science fair and earned recognition at a national competition in DC. It doesn’t get much more hands-on than this. 

So, when a partnership between HSE and Hub & Spoke created the need for a teacher-in-residence, Jennifer leapt at the chance, saying, “It was right up my alley! I thought, ‘We can do so much with this space.’” 

The Maker Playground  

The Hub & Spoke Maker Playground is a state-of-the-art makerspace that invites the community to explore, discover, create, and make. It’s a literal 15,000-square-foot playground for the mind and imagination, equipped with tools and technology, wood and metal shops, computers and supplies, 3D printers and a CNC machine. 

The HSE/Hub & Spoke partnership opens the Maker Playground’s doors to over 1500 area fifth graders – and, ideally, opening their minds to the possibilities and opportunities of the STEAM world. Jennifer says, “That’s the fun part about this age. They still have that natural wonder.” Three times each school year, they visit the Maker Playground to let it loose. Jennifer’s standards-based curriculum features four different experiences, of which each student can choose two: 

  • LED Locker Light. The students engineer and build an LED light circuit to create a real, working light for their lockers. 
  • Nest Box. Connecting ecology with math, students design and build working nest boxes for eastern bluebirds. 
  • 3D Fidget Ring. From Pop Its to Whacky Tracks, middle schoolers love fidget toys – and they’re useful calming and concentration tools. At the Maker Playground, they can design and build their own customized fidget ring with the 3D printer. 
  • Robotics. This experience allows students to learn how to teach the robotic arms to move and create according to X, Y, and Z coordinates they designate for it.  

After a fall visit, where the students tour the space and learn how the equipment works, they come back in the spring to start working on their creations. The biggest complaint from these fifth graders: they want to do all four projects. 

Parents and community members have been equally enthusiastic about the HSE/Hub & Spoke partnership. In fact, teachers receive more requests for volunteers and chaperones than they need!  

Back to the Classroom and Beyond 

Jennifer wants students to bring the problem-solving and critical thinking skills they are learning and honing – as well as the confidence they are developing – at the Maker Playground back to their classrooms and to their lives.  

She says, “The one aspect I really hit hard on is grit. I tell the kids: if you come across a problem anywhere in life, you can  say, ‘I can’t do this. It’s too hard; I give up,” or you can have the growth mindset of ‘I can figure this out; I can solve this.’”  

With this mindset, we are looking at a promising new generation of makers, creators, thinkers, tinkerers, and doers indeed. 

You don’t need to be a fifth grader to take advantage of the learning opportunities available at Hub & Spoke’s Maker Playground! Learn more about what we offer the makers in our community.