On Tuesday, October 7, 2014 YOUmedia Hartford at Hartford Public Library officially opened its doors. The Library was part of a cohort in 2009 created by Chicago Public Library and the MacArthur Foundation that included the Miami-Dade Public Library, the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C, and DreamYard in the Bronx, NY. YOUmedia Hartford is the last to launch, but the delay had the fortune of providing Hartford with the opportunity to learn valuable insights from the wider YOUmedia Network Community. Subsequently, YOUmedia Hartford has hit the ground running. The Hartford Courant published an article covering the opening of the space, and the YOUmedia Network followed up with Tricia George, the YOUmedia Manager, about her enthusiasm for the future of YOUmedia’s newest location.
The physical space of YOUmedia Hartford is designed literally around the HOMAGO (“hanging out” “messing around” and “geeking out”) learning theory: the front of YOUmedia Hartford, with its couches, lounge chairs, and gaming equipment, is explicitly for “hanging out”. The “messing around” area contains small group workstations, places to use laptops, and desktops computers that are meant to be used collaboratively. The “geeking out” area showcases “pro-level resources,” including a Makerbot Z18 3d printer, a recording studio, and an interactive tv/display.
YOUmedia Hartford is also developing a robust visiting artist program to supplement their mentor and librarian team. Artists include “Trashion” designer Frances Loyola, and Quadeer Shakur, a Boston-based award-winning producer/songwriter/rapper, who proposed a project to record and distribute a “Best of Hartford Hip Hop Album”. YOUmedia Hartford also plans to experiment with youth-led mentoring, in workshops that include art and hip hop dance, that Tricia anticipates will provide “economic opportunities for teens doing peer learning.”
The youth that YOUmedia Hartford serves are diverse, according to Tricia. This is reflected in city-wide census data which includes 38.7% African American, 43.4% Hispanic or Latino amongst other percentages. The per capita income of Hartford, CT is $16,789, giving the city the troubled distinction of being one of the poorest cities in the United States. Merely 60 miles west is Fairfield County, CT, one of the wealthiest areas in the United States with a per capita income of $82,049. The contrast is stark. YOUmedia Learning Labs like Hartford highlight the need and importance of guiding youth through the principles of Connected Learning, making learning pathways and possibilities visible and accessible to youth who may lack well-supported home or school resources.
The most effective recruitment method to reach Hartford’s estimated 13,500 teens, according to Tricia, has been “word of mouth,” an observation that has been made at other YOUmedia Learning Lab locations. Additionally, YOUmedia Hartford has made formal partnerships with two local high schools to recruit and attract youth: The University High School of Science and Engineering, and High School, Inc. (a business and science magnet school). The aim is to “target the most trusted people: club guides, mentors, guidance counselors, and teachers, and have them speak highly of the space and recommend it.” Tricia is enthusiastic about the opening and what the future holds: “As an institution… we can lend credibility to students in the space who show the desire and ability to do great things. Our students are so grateful that it’s incredible, and we are trying to rock positive culture and be trusting and loving of our young people.”
intro and studio photo credit: Pramod Pradhan