Exclusive, Persistent Space for Teens
This teen-exclusive space is welcoming to a diverse group of teens and is both relaxing and stimulating. A reliable, persistent space and a consistent schedule is essential for Createch sites; the space is available at least weekly. Teens need the space to be safe for exploration and the noise/activities level required, so enclosed spaces are best. It suits the needs of teens who want to do their own thing, as well as those in large groups. In the multi-purpose spaces, Createch experiments with accessories and atmosphere to communicate that the space is now teen-friendly. At our small Carnegie library, we transformed the community learning center from a quiet work and study area to a Createch space by pulling bean bag chairs out of the closet, turning on some music, and lowering the bright fluorescent lighting. Moveable furniture and ample electrical outlets simplify this process.
These comfortable spaces provide both physical and emotional safety for the participants. The space will be a supportive, encouraging atmosphere built on respect and trust, where trial and error and failure is all good.
Committed staff is the lead mentors. Volunteer mentors help bring expertise through production-based workshops. Mentors work to develop relationships, encourage exploration, and make connections for the youth. Relationships are necessary for successful workshops and interactions in the Createch space. Mentors have a commitment to the youth and to the philosophy of the program. “It’s truly about commitment – flexibility, creativity, generosity of spirit.” – Karen Kolb Peterson, SPPL
Staff Willingness to Adapt and be Responsive
Not only has Createch evolved from its initial sporadic programming, but the agencies involved have evolved as well. The Saint Paul Public Libraries have taken the momentum from Createch to reimagine our public spaces. We now offer regular teen programming in libraries after hours and are changing the way we view library services.
When faced with problems, Createch staff come together with partners to find innovative solutions. An example of this was illustrated when we were hard-pressed to find space and time for teens to “hang out” in a small Carnegie library during regular hours without bothering other users. (We had been holding Createch alongside a homework center and job search assistance.) We started offering Createch during closed “Library After Dark” times exclusively for teens. Createch staff comes to the table knowing their organization’s goals and work collectively for the good of the program.
Incorporate and trust the Teen Voice
Youth leadership and input helped Createch become what it is now. The teens feel empowered to make the space their own. Createch staff continuously receive informal feedback from teens. The Createch Studio was built from the help of a teen advisory; we plan to continue the teen advisory model in the future.
Createch staff also employ radical trust in the teens. “When I brought the iPads to the Teen Zone before I was kind of paranoid and strove to keep using all in one room. The [Teen Zone] staff had no such qualms and last night the iPads were in use all over the facility. Clearly, my concern was unnecessary, another example that the Teen Zone's philosophy of radical trust is effective and inspiring.” – János McGhie, SPPL
Encourage “Hanging Out[i]”
Createch learned quickly that teens are hesitant to walk into a workshop cold, especially if they are unfamiliar with the subject. But when they are welcomed into a room with iPads, comfy seating, music, video games, and an engaging mentor, they ease into activities at their own pace, build social ties, and passively absorb what’s going on around them. It looks chaotic; assure staff and fellow patrons that unstructured time is essential. Safe spaces are where teen norms are accepted and accommodated. Allow for movement and noise. Participation in workshops is never required for being in the space. Createch does not align with traditional academic norms, there are no grades or outcomes expected. This approach relaxes the feel of traditional library and parks programming and helps tremendously in attendance and participation.
Offer chances to “Mess Around” and “Geek Out[ii]”
Createch offers opportunities for hands-on familiarization with interest-led, STEAM concepts and tools. We offer hands-on opportunities to "mess around" with tools which might not otherwise be accessible to teens. Messing around occurs both with access to tools in the space (a sewing machine, for example) and also with our production-based workshops.
We offer tools necessary to explore sewing, circuitry, crafting, photography and videography, audio recording, drawing, videogames, and to mess around with software and apps on computers and iPads. Createch workshops focus on teens making something, and have included stop-motion animation, e-textiles, circuit-bending, aerial photography via helium balloon rig, and blinging out shoes.
The end products are not our goal; Createch simply strives to give teens access to emerging technology and tools, and the ability to gain a comfort level with a variety of tools for creativity and hopefully inspire and spark a passion. Mentors guide teens to deepen their exploration. A few teens will “geek out” and dive deeper, building competence and confidence and connecting to resources beyond Createch. Each level of involvement is valid.
Partner with Organizations in your Community
Virtually no single organization has the full set of elements to make a successful Createch program. Createch is a collaboration among four partners and counting. One organization may be able to recruit and train mentors but lack an ideal space to conduct the events or time to prepare them weekly. Createch’s collaboration with Saint Paul Parks and Recreation began with their teen employment program, and the partnership deepened when we recognized that they had a superior programming space and staff with youth development expertise. Createch continually connects youth with other activities going on in the community. We continue to make new partnerships; in addition to the key partners listed below.
Key partnerships that make Createch happen:
Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL) provides space, staff, and administrative assistance. The library supplements Createch with workshops supported by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
Saint Paul Parks and Recreation (Parks): Parks and Libraries worked together on the IMLS Learning Labs Grant, and in the Arlington Hills Community Center, a joint facility run by both departments, opened the Createch Studio, a dedicated space for teens. Parks provides space, staff, and administrative assistance.
Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM)/Kitty Anderson Youth Science Center (KAYSC) trains the Createch staff and the Right Track workers who make up the Teen Tech Crew (TTC). The TTC lead workshops at Createch sites 1 week each month, which they originally called “Createch Labs” (the name of our spaces evolved from there). The TTC teens help create the content for the programs they run and engage their peers in the activities. The teens reflect on what is working and what could be improved after each session.
Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) leads programming based on video production. Workshops include stop motion animation, video poetry, making music videos, and creating public service announcements.
Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas (UST) connects engineering undergrads with teens in Createch sites, bringing activities such as e-textiles to our teens.
University of Minnesota researcher Maggie Struck observed the Createch sessions for one month, and conducted a focus group with the Teen Tech Crew, presented findings in December 2012, and will continue research throughout her doctoral program.
Createch started with the Teen Tech Crew. In winter of 2012, nine high school Youth Job Corps (YJC, now called Right Track) workers were hired and trained by the SMM team. They worked in teams of three to create hands-on creative technology workshops at three sites: Rondo Library, Rice Street Teen Zone/Library and the Arlington Library.
At the same time, the libraries and parks received the IMLS Learning Labs grant. A goal in that grant was to create a mobile lab. At the time we wrote the grant, we envisioned libraries and parks offering technology to out-of-school time agencies. However, we quickly learned that the mentor/teen relationships were what made technology programs successful, and parachuting our technology into a site would not be as effective as once hoped. The advisory board developed for the grant, comprised of a representative from SMM, SPNN, Saint Paul Public Schools, Public Television, and the University of Minnesota, advised against creating a drop-in mobile lab. Instead, we focused on creating a persistent safe-space for teens that a mobile lab could complement.
In the spring of 2012, the TTC offered sporadic classes using Scratch animation. During the summer months, the classes were offered weekly. The TTC renamed their sessions “Createch Labs” as they branched out from Scratch animation, and ventured into offering a variety of “messing around” options with science, technology, and engineering. Our attendance spiked. We credited this spike to the consistency of offering the technology weekly.
In the fall of 2012, the TTC teens had to scale back to teaching once per month due to school starting again. Libraries and parks decided to implement what they were learning through the IMLS grant. We started offering “hanging out” time with the mobile lab to keep a persistent teen activity offered weekly. This, having consistent staff, and supplementing with Legacy funded special events has made the Createch a success. Attendance is high. Relationships are flourishing between teen participants and staff. Teens are feeling an ownership at their library and parks sites.
In November 2012, we shortened “Createch Labs” to “Createch” and added one more site – this one with a partnership with Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) to teach video production. Having tried intermittent programming in libraries in the past, SPNN was thrilled to have a space to try their programming biweekly, starting January 2013.
Ito, Mizuko et al. 2009. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.[i]
The Institute of Museum and Library Services, Science Museum of Minnesota, Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, and the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.