Angela De Vincenzo, Jeff Mayer, and their son, Luca. Independent/ Jenny Norris
The building blocks of learning await in an 18-wheeler truck known as Big Mama. Created by a family of three, Angela De Vincenzo, a learning specialist, her husband Jeff Mayer, a former BMX professional, and their son, Luca; Blocks, Trucks, + Art is a progressive educational movement geared toward children ages three to 13. The truck has made its way from Brooklyn to a new home at Hayground School in Bridgehampton.
How does it feel to work side-by-side with your spouse?
Angela: Exciting and inspiring. With our business, we are able to focus on our individual areas of strength. I am able to hone in on my educational background and private tutoring/consulting practice, and Jeff focuses on the big picture of Blocks, Trucks, + Art, and of course the biking, skateboarding, and DJing components. Jeff has truly guided us with his creative direction and vision for our family-owned 18-wheeler and the program.
I support the ideation process, ground it all in educational rationale, and help to implement the plan as he builds, conceptually and logistically. While we often work on separate aspects of the whole, we do come together and collaborate with our varying perspectives. We certainly lean on one another to balance our thinking, and share common goals and expectations for the work we do with kids.
Your son, Luca, inspired this concept. What’s that backstory?
Angela: Our soon-to-be nine-year-old son, Luca, led the way for my husband and me. We are deeply connected to Luca’s needs and desires, and in slightly unexpected, organic ways. Luca’s love for trucks led us to purchase our Big Mama, his adept biking skills (like his father) led us to create our BMX/biking program, and now Luca’s skateboarding has inspired us to add skateboarding to our program menu.
We love showing kids that we are a family that works together, sharing our passions and interests. There are sacrifices (we lived on our truck for three summers, as we were building the program). We see kids getting into biking, DJing, working together, or feeling better about themselves as readers and writers. We see the shift in self-confidence, and self-acceptance.
Your teaching method sounds to be very hands on and creative.
Angela: When you observe children in a block area, it’s magic. They are making connections about how the world works, problem solving with their peers, developing spatial awareness and language skills — it’s kind of everything. When children are guided in their endeavors, and we are attentive to their process, there is so much growth and opportunity there. You learn most from and about children in these settings, and then your teaching can be so much more impactful when you have a fuller understanding of the whole child.
Jeff, how’d you design the 18-wheeler, Big Mama?
I have been designing since I was a kid and haven’t stopped. The 18-wheeler has been my favorite project so far though, mainly because it inspires people like nothing else I have ever done. Ironically, a lot of my friends back in the city thought I should have pursued a career in interior design. Living in small apartments in NYC was how I learned to use space well. When we bought the trailer, I immediately saw the potential. The first summer, I basically re-created our Brooklyn apartment down to the Design Within Reach Italian leather couch, a DJ console that I designed that holds 1000 records, turntables, and a mixer. In addition, my print and photography.
Each summer there’s been a renovation on the trailer, as our program continues to evolve. Summer one, it had a massive block area, a pop-up shop with our skate line Luca718, and a lounge, where we could hang between tutoring and block sessions. This summer, number five, we have a full-on DJ booth with fog machine, laser, black lights and a big disco ball, a skateboard mini-ramp (with Pop-Up Shut Skates NYC Shop) and a tutoring workshop/classroom all inside.
Why is biking such a large part of your program?
Jeff: We realized our first summer back in 2015 how many city kids didn’t know how to ride a bike. We brought our bikes with us. Luca was riding around camp in the morning and parents would ask how he knew how to ride (he was five years old at the time). So, I started giving private lessons after camp. Fast forward four summers, and I am now teaching children BMX in an after-school program I created and we now have four different bike tracks. From learning how to ride a bike with no training wheels, riding a dirt pump track that builds a child’s core through left and right banked turns, and this summer, an advanced pump track with bigger obstacles and a new jump track.
Seeing kids go home with the confidence biking gives them has been the biggest reward for me with teaching my biking program. If you have confidence in this world, I believe that is everything. Not to mention the physical component, which is what we are all about. We have a big no cell phone policy with our kids old enough to have a phone.
How’d you get involved with the Hayground school?
Angela: We had a friend who led us to Jon Snow, on the board of trustees. He thought our philosophies of working with children would be completely aligned. We came to Jon with a seed of an idea: working with children with open-ended materials inside and around an 18-wheeler. And now, we are on to our fifth summer, and are offering so much more.
What is your overall mission or goal?
Jeff: Balancing the demographic is very important to us. We believe everyone should have the opportunity to participate in what we offer out here. We are seeking sponsorships and also will host a few fundraisers this summer/fall. We would love to fix up the truck (the engine has 1.6 million miles on it and needs a rebuild) and take the truck on the road to schools and events across the country in the future. If we can raise $500,000, we will be headed to Art Basel this winter with our rig and two other 18-wheelers to demo our program. We would also like donate a few shipping containers (built out with parts of our program) to an under-funded school in Miami.
Learn more about what this family does and to sign up visit www.blockstrucksandart.com.