What do young people in Minneapolis do when they’re not in school? Do they have access to places during non-school hours that are safe, fun and enriching? And what is the role of the city, schools, libraries and park system in making sure they do?
The Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board (YCB) is attempting to answer those questions by bringing together feedback from young people, youth service providers and city officials as part of its “Out-of-School Time” initiative.
The goal, according to YCB Executive Director Judith Kahn, is to increase the number and, just as important, the quality of opportunities children and youth have when they’re not in school.
“As we look around the country to see how other cities do business for kids, it’s clear that incremental change isn’t going to do it,” Kahn said. “You can’t pick away at this and expect to see change. You really have to take this on as a major, broad effort.”
The YCB knew it couldn’t address the issues and policies related to out-of-school time until it figured out what currently exists, Kahn said. YCB officials started by getting feedback from youth – or the “demand” side of the equation – by helping organize a youth mapping project that has lasted nearly two years. Youth hit the streets to interview other young people and map “kid-friendly” places in neighborhoods throughout the city, a project that included Southwest neighborhoods such as Whittier, Lyndale and Kingfield. A group of “Youth Action Crews” did more than 675 on-the-street interviews with young people and created a database showing who is participating in out-of-school programs, why some aren’t, what types of programming they’d like to see, and which places and adults young people consider youth-friendly.
Organizers also realized that they needed to get input from the “supply” side of the equation as well, which meant talking to youth service providers. Council Member and YCB Vice Chair Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) suggested gathering this feedback through “ward conversations.” Using City Council wards as an organizing structure, the YCB and council members held conversations with child and youth program providers in all 13 of the city’s wards during the past two months. In the 8th Ward alone, more than 20 youth service providers participated, Glidden said. She said one of the things those conversations have looked at is how public partners and public facilities – including public schools, parks and libraries – could be better utilized to provide additional resources for youth.
“What are the really specific things we can do right now that will address the gaps and barriers?” Glidden said.
Members of the City Council will take up that issue at a March 2 study session. Representatives from the YCB will join council members, as might other officials from entities such as the city’s parks and libraries and Hennepin County. Those present at the session will review data and recommendations gathered from youth and service providers and work on ways to translate them into real, tangible results for young people in the city.
Kahn is hoping all of these efforts combined might lead to opportunities for pooling resources and generating better collaboration between public and private programs. Getting youth programming into areas of the city where there is currently very little service is also a top priority, Kahn said.
After gathering information from the ward conversations and youth mapping project, Kahn said there are a number of strategies the YCB has tentatively identified that it and youth service providers will likely address. One is a better way to get information out to youth about what programs are available, which could include a comprehensive website. Another is making transportation youth-friendly and improving transportation options for young people, perhaps by having a bus that goes from youth program to youth program and is easily accessible for young people.
One thing Glidden wants to see is a more formal relationship between the work the city does and youth voices. Many development projects need to first go through a neighborhood approval process and, in a similar way, Glidden would like to see some city projects that particularly affect youth go through a process wherein youth examine them and have the opportunity to provide feedback. Other cities do this, Glidden said. This type of youth leadership and engagement could be addressed by creating a “Youth Congress” that could be up and running as early as this summer, Kahn said.
“I do think we need a more formal process where we increase youth voices,” Glidden said.
Reach Kari VanDerVeen at firstname.lastname@example.org and 436-4373.