The cool corner: Teen Tech Center plugs into 21st century
Every day after school, Marshunna Clark heads to the downtown library. But she never checks out any books.
Instead, Clark, a freshman at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, spends her afternoons inside the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at the Minneapolis Central Library. There, she creates beats in the studio, finishes her homework or socializes with the librarians and other teens.
“I like feeling like I belong somewhere,” Clark said.
Archie Jones, a sophomore at MCTC, feels a similar sense of community at the Tech Center. It’s also the only place he can work on his graphic design. Jones wants to have an advertising company in the future, and the Tech Center has all the resources he can’t find at home or school.
“I also come here for the convos,” he said. “Everyone’s friendly, everyone will help you out.”
It’s no coincidence that senior librarian Bernie Farrell’s favorite days of the week are ones where she’s at the Tech Center. “People come to places they’re comfortable,” Farrell said, and that sense of belonging is appreciated by teens.
Mawardi Moussa, a sophomore at Thomas Edison High School in Minneapolis, moved from Ethiopia less than a year ago, Already a pro at animation, she uses cameras to photograph Legos, then constructs videos on a computer.
Clark is in the middle of creating beats to eventually put on her own CD. Jones designed a T-shirt with the slogan “Empowering Our Youth 4 a Better Tomorrow” that is now distributed as official Teen Tech Center apparel.
All of this is done inside one special room.
“It’s one thing to have a lot of computers, and another to have people to help you,” Jones said. Clark enthusiastically added that she plans to continue coming “until I hit 20!”
— Ellie Colbert
TEENS WANTED ‘MORE’
Dejon Wattley has been making music on his own for years.
Now, the Teen Tech Center gives him the chance to make music like a professional.
When Wattley, 18, came to the Tech Center, he was crafting songs on a laptop with a store bought microphone. Inside the center’s professional studio, he can use top-of-the-line equipment and take his skills to the next level.
Better yet, he can bring friends with him, and even make new friends while there. This would not have been possible without the creation of the Teen Tech Squad in 2007.
That year, the library was looking for ways to engage teens, especially in an era of emerging social media, said Cynthia Matthias, a librarian at Teen Central.
Teens were specifically selected because they’re old enough to direct their own learning. To keep them interested, the library chose to emphasize technology.
The library began hosting classes about technology use, and how to create art with it, inside the newly renovated downtown location. In 2008, grants were issued to three other libraries to expand the program. However, there was limited access to these classes, and often they would only happen once-a-week, Matthias said.
Because of this, teens in class wanted more.
“We wanted them to do things they were really excited about doing,” Matthias said.
It became clear from the teen outcry for “more” that the library needed a dedicated space for teen technology. The downtown library was chosen because of its central location and its already existing space for teens.
In late 2012, the library received a grant for the Tech Center from Best Buy. The remodel began in October 2012, and the center formally opened in late January 2013.
— Thomas Aldrich
BECOMING A REALITY
The Minneapolis Central Library is bringing itself into the 21st century. With a little help, of course.
When Best Buy put out a Request For Proposal (RFP) of a grant, the library saw an opportunity to run with long desired programming. Best Buy’s guidelines were simple: It had to be a space for teens and it had to highlight technology.
In all, the grant ended up being for about half a million dollars; $100,000 of it for staffing, which can be renewed next year. The rest was for the buildout and technology (computers, digital photography, filmmaking and videography, graphic design, audio production, game development).
In addition to Minneapolis, tech centers were also built in Chicago, Miami and San Antonio.
“At Best Buy, access to technology is about enriching the communities in which we live and work, and ensuring that everyone has the ability to use technology,” the company stated in its RFP. “Best Buy is focused on helping teens build skills that are critical to their futures, as well as society as a whole, and providing them the access they need to maximize the value of their time outside of the classroom.”
Aaron Lundholm, the Teen Tech Center coordinator, has been working at the site since its January opening. Where it used to be that a student would ask Lundholm for help, now it’s the teens who feel confident teaching each other.
“I see … the teens becoming the experts,” he said.
— Elizabeth Hogshire
WHERE THE MUSIC HAPPENS
Amid all the books and helpful librarians at the Central Library, a walk to the second floor reveals a dream-reaching program behind sleek panes of glass.
The Teen Tech Center’s main priority is to help students find success in the media arts. From computerized drawing pads to a green screen ready for video use, the hip and modern corner of the library has everything for students who want to show off their creative side.
Without question though, the most popular part of the room is the music studio.
“Yeah, the studio is always booked up,” said Jason Quaynor, a youth coordinator at the Tech Center. “There’s usually like, 48 kids (in the studio) a week.”
The Tech Center’s music studio uses advanced editing programs — ProTools, Reason, FL Studio, Logic and GarageBand — that put most home recording equipment to shame. That they’re used by professionals around the world should be incentive enough. But the best part — as most teens will tell you — is that it’s free.
“Man, if I had something like this when I was 17 …” said Quaynor while working with teens near the soundboard.
Most students use the sound proof studio and latest Mac equipment to record their own music and edit tracks. Alex Marble, Adam Meintsma and Christian Newman of Avalon School in St. Paul recently spent time in the studio to work on a class project. Their goal was to remake the song “Don’t Trust Me” by 3OH!3 into a metal one.
“The staff is really nice and metal isn’t everybody’s kind of music, so I like coming because it’s somewhere we can work without disturbing other people,” Marble said.
The Tech Center’s music studio is a place of solidarity for those who wish to create, be it for a class project or a future hip-hop career. That the learning can be so hands-on shows teens that a music career can happen right now.
“These kids want to make history and not just be in it,” Quaynor said.
— Jessica Enwesi
A LINK TO THE WORLD
Art by teens from across the world decorates the walls of the Teen Tech Center.
New Zealand, Taiwan, India, Argentina and Israel are just a few of the 22 countries that house similarly constructed Tech Centers. These international clubhouses, part of the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, serve 25,000 teens each year and act as technology hubs that empower teens from all different cultures and backgrounds.
The first clubhouse was built in Boston in 1993. Four years later, they expanded internationally.
Every clubhouse is a little different depending on the location and community. Lundholm said the clubhouses are “a place that youth should own.”
In 1998, a website was created to link members. This online community, known as the Clubhouse Village (www.clubhousevillage.org), connects teens across all 100 sites.
Teens at Tech Centers can complete a free membership agreement and, much like Facebook, become part of the worldwide community. The website then allows teens to share their Tech Center projects, as well as enjoy work by others from around the globe.
It’s a multimedia approach that breaks down language barriers and creates a space where teens from varied locations and backgrounds can collaborate and inspire each other. The online village is also a great networking tool for teens across nations, giving them “a much wider perspective,” said librarian Adele Murray.
In a recent study done by Clubhouse, it was shown that programs like it are having the desired effect in teen lives. Teens in the study said they were more proficient in problem-solving, use of technology tools and collaboration. Ninety-four percent of members “definitely” or “probably” believe they will graduate high school, and 93 percent plan to continue their education beyond high school.
— Hannah Gordon, Thomas Aldrich
FOR TEENS, BY TEENS
“Support, but donʼt force” is Farrell’s motto.
It’s one of the most important tenets to remember when working with teenagers. It also guides the Teen Tech Center’s philosophy for interactive learning, especially when teens are at the library voluntarily, something that is becoming less common in the age of social media.
While that was originally thought to be a problem, the technology perks found inside the Tech Center have been drawing new and more students. It also serves as an important separation point for the rest of the library.
The Tech Center is filled with bright colors, funky furniture and a bold, modern design that gives teens ownership of the space. Matthias recalled how an adult, upon seeing the space for the first time, asked, “Who would want an orange chair?”
Teens, that’s who.
Matthias believes the Central Library is the perfect place to have a Tech Center because “thereʼs nothing to do downtown” for teenagers. Her goal is to make the center a place where “literacy isnʼt just about books.”
Instead, it can be about creating and analyzing media. Or interacting and connecting with students from other schools. Or perhaps even random discussions about superhero movies between librarians and teens.
Farrell has seen the center’s fun, positive behavior spread to other parts of the library. She would even like to seek input from teens when it’s time to rewrite the building’s overall guidelines.
— Megan Johnson, Ellie Colbert
CHECK IT OUT!
The Best Buy Teen Tech Center is located on the second floor of the Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, downtown Minneapolis. Membership is for youth ages 12 to 19.
Hours are 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday, 2 to 6 p.m. Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (612) 543-8045.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
As part of a nine-week after school class at the Minneapolis Central Library, members of ThreeSixty Journalism’s spring NewsTeam spent their final two weeks brainstorming, researching, interviewing and writing inside the Teen Tech Center. Special thanks to StarTribune features reporter Katie Humphrey for assisting with the creative process.