Beginning in April, children and teenagers living in the inner-city will have access to a slew of digital tools, including cameras, laptops and a 3-D printer, as well as a group adult mentors eager to share what they know.
Andrea Ellis is the Digital Youth Engagement Manager for the Kansas City Public Library and is leading the effort to bring experienced volunteers and a van full of equipment to young people at the Southeast and North-East branches of the library once a week.
Ellis said that they hope the mobile lab will not only teach students more about creating technology but that what they create will itself impact the community.
“What we’re proposing is not necessarily introducing new technology to people, but helping young people take technology to the next level,” Ellis said. “We’re working with youth, who are not necessarily afraid of technology. They have technology, and they may consume technology, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to use it to create their future.”
Last December, the library wrote and received a $94,800 grant from the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund, which promotes computer and Internet accessibility and literacy, to create a mobile digital media lab.
This project partially grew out of a digital lab prototype that the library hosted last summer at Science City at Union Station, where teenagers could experiment with digital creation and storytelling with everything from musical instruments to virtual reality gaming tools.
That prototype, called the learning labs, was developed through feedback Ellis collected from local youth advisors and funded by a $100,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation
“That really allowed us to get some insight into this whole digital world and digital learning,” Ellis said. “Looking at what was going in the community, (a focus on) storytelling and coding kind of came out naturally because whatever you’re doing you need to be able to tell a story and … that made as a library …. There’s also a movement in Kansas City to make Kansas City kind of a Midwest Hollywood of digital storytelling.”
Ellis hopes that the mobile digital media lab can be part of this digital storytelling movement.
In addition, Ellis said a recent Mid-America Regional Council workforce development research estimated that, by the year 2020, there will be a 15 percent increase in jobs where storytelling is needed.
Before its launch next month, Ellis said that one of the keys to making the initiative a success will be building a group of committed community mentors, which the library is hoping to grow at a volunteer information and training session April 1 at the Central Branch.
The grant funding will end in December 2014, but Ellis is committed to making an impact and using that to help sustain the project.
“One of the big things for us is how do we continue to leverage this for the benefit of the youth for the long term?” Ellis said. “… we’re so used to people coming into the community with programs because they got a grant for it for three months, or there’s a quick camp and then it’s gone …. We’re really hoping to tie this into workforce development. This is an opportunity to get these young people on a track that is gonna benefit Kansas City.”
Major Funding for Education coverage on KCPT provided by Jo Anna Dale and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation