Wonder Institute

Jim Rooks, outside left, is shown with one of his “We the People” teams at the National Finals Competition in Washington, D.C. Rooks has a new job as the director of community engagement at the Wonder Institute, an arm of the Center of Wonder.

The Center of Wonder has a few new programs on the horizon, and former social studies teacher Jim Rooks has a new job.

Rooks, who is running for a seat on the Jackson Town Council, will be the director of community engagement for the Wonder Institute, an arm of the Center of Wonder that launched last summer. In addition to creating a new digital media lab and maker space and taking over some programming from Jackson Wild, one of the Wonder Institute’s goals is to create community spaces and programming for young people between 15 and 25 years old.

Rooks will be working for the Wonder Institute part-time to roll out the physical space, which he described as “a 21st-century youth community center.”

“We’re not talking about foosball tables and pool tables,” the former teacher told the Jackson Hole Daily, though he admitted that “it’d be kind of cool to have a couple of those.”

Instead, he’s envisioning a place where kids can go, learn a little and get ahead. Rooks hopes to partner with nonprofits and businesses to set up internship and apprenticeship programs, create jobs for young people and run some sort of youth leadership academy.

“We see a tremendous need for that locally,” Rooks said, describing getting an academy off the ground as his “unfinished business” in the education realm.

Reaching those who are past high school age is important.

“They don’t stop being our kids when they graduate high school,” he said.

The Wonder Institute has not leased space just yet. Rooks said he’s working with Gary and Veronica Silberberg, founders of the Center of Wonder, to find an appropriate location.

“The most exciting thing for me is to open the doors for that space,” he said. “I’m just laser focused on opening a space for young people in Jackson that’s engaging and empowering.”

Programming will begin in the meantime, starting in July. Some will be a continuation of Rooks’ programs at Jackson Hole High School.

He’ll run a summer version of the civic education program, “We the People,” as well as a financial literacy course centered around the stock market.

Video production courses and art workshops will also be offered along with access to the maker space.

In a press release Rooks sent after talking with the Daily, he said he was interested in having young people teach other young people. Four of those people are already on board.

Jack Hessler, an editor and producer at WZRD Media, will teach the film production workshops. Lauren Teruya, a University of Southern California journalism student, will lead art workshops.

Environmental freelance photographer Sam Roubin will be a Wonder Institute faculty member. Jimmy Hessler, a fellow at the University of Denver, is looking into developing entrepreneurial programs.

Opportunities to register for the Wonder Institute’s programs are forthcoming.

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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