Some Chicago Teens Travel as Far as Five Miles to Use Digital Technology

Distance can’t stop a motivated teenager. A study by the Consortium of Chicago School Research (CCSR), shows that 80 percent of the children participating in Chicago’s nationally-acclaimed YOUmedia program travel an average of five miles to access the libraries where they learn web design, digital media production, and programming.

In 2015, students from 300 schools visited YOUMedia and took advantage of more than 2,000 learning programs.

About 300-500 teens a week routinely make the trek to eleven locations of YOUmedia programs, including city libraries. Nearly half of them are African American teenage boys. The program is designed to build a sense of community and encourage young people to engage digital media in a variety of ways. YOUMedia started at four library locations and, in 2015, six locations were be added to the program, thanks to an additional $500-thousand that was carved into the 2014 city budget by legislators. The funds increased the number of teens served by 25 percent.

“YOUmedia builds on teens’ interest in technology and motivates them to create, innovate and become active learners,” says Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “By increasing access to digital media and safe, inviting spaces, we are empowering Chicago’s teens to engage technology in new ways.”

The study shows that about 22% of the teens use the facilities to create original work, 28% a to do homework, 30% take advantage of the multimedia tools, and about 18% come to socialize with peers.

Chicago Public Library (CPL), manages the YOUmedia program, which gives youngsters in sixth through eighth grades access to the latest digital equipment, instruction, and mentoring by volunteers, members of Digital Youth Network of DePaul University, and library staff who share their expertise in various areas of digital media production. CPL branch locations include: Rudy Lozano Branch Library, Richard M. Daley Branch Library, Humboldt Park Branch Library, and Thurgood Marshall Branch Library.

Starting in the summer of 2014, the six additional YOUmedia libraries will offer regular digital skill development programs plus a roving program which travels to other library branches throughout the year. At the Harold Washington Library Center, high school YOUmedia participants attend workshops in digital music, video & animation, photography, graphic design and STEM. Teens can borrow laptops, use gaming stations, attend workshops and programs, create digital media, and use a music recording studio.

“We’re excited to expand this model into more neighborhoods as it’s been so successful in engaging teens in deep learning,” says Brian Bannon, commissioner, Chicago Public Libraries. “Now more than ever, libraries must serve as community learning centers and connect young people to resources that support their success in school and beyond.”

YOUmedia, launched in 2009, and based on research supported by the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is currently in 30 cities. The program explores how digital media are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. ❒

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