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Grant creates outlet for KC youth to learn computer skills at library

A $94,800 grant will help pay for a mobile digital media lab for the Kansas City Public Library. The lab will promote computer and Internet accessibility and literacy to 8- to 18-year-olds at the library’s Southeast and North-East branches starting April 8.

A van will transport laptops, cameras, audio recorders and more to library conference areas where kids will learn by “homago” an abbreviated word for learning by “hanging out,” “messing around” and “geeking out.”

Andrea Ellis, the library’s digital youth engagement manager, said they hope to incorporate that type of learning into the program while still teaching basic of how to use the equipment. 

“It’s really self-directed activities, collaboration with other students and learning, going deeper on specific things with mentors,” she said. “They’ll bring expertise to build on and show you more.

“It’s a natural learning environment that’s not a classroom.”

The mobile lab will have equipment to teach coding fundamentals, audio and video production, and digital storytelling, and also will be available during at least one community event each month elsewhere in KC. 

The grant comes from the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund, a $1 million endowment designed to bridge the city’s digital divide.

Ellis, said the initiative came out of a series of meetings last year with young adults, community stakeholders and business and creative professionals to assess digital interests, needs and possibilities.

“We found that their interest in technology was extremely diverse,” Ellis (right) said. “We held a summit and introduced them to a variety of digital outlets—music and video production, game development, web design, 3-D animation—and found that they wanted to know it all.”

Funding for the planning came from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation.

The hope the digital lab will get kids interested in moving past just consuming content and teaching them how to create. Hopefully that will get them thinking about an academic or career opportunity to do more with audio, video or coding, Ellis said.

The Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund was unveiled last August and created with $1 million in corporate and foundation gifts and administered by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

The Library is one of five area nonprofits selected as initial Digital Inclusion Fund grant recipients.

Volunteers needed

The library is looking for professionals in the tech, storytelling, production, entrepreneurial and related fields to sign up as volunteer mentors for the kids.

Individuals interested in volunteer mentoring need to attend a training session from 6-8 p.m. on April 1 at the Central Library. Dinner is provided.

Volunteers will spend two and a half hours each week at either the Library’s Southeast or North-East branch beginning in April. At least a six-month commitment is requested. Ellis said they can tailor the program to capitalize on expertises.

“One of the best parts of the program is the adult/kid interaction,” she said. “You have kids that ‘teach’ and show these adults what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

“We want people who can give time and be flexible because we’re still prototyping this program in a way. We just need people who can engage in youth, share knowledge and be flexible.” 


Those interested can contact Andrea Ellis at andreaellis@kclibrary.org.


Credits: Andrea Ellis photo from LinkedIn

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