If you were to ask one of the members of the Brooklyn Park Library Teen Tech Squad (TTS) to speak about their work, their response would sound like what we all imagine an ideal learning environment to be: interactive, collaborative, and engaging, in addition to being challenging and rigorous. The students who take part in the program explore science, engineering, and technology through rockets, through slime, through board-game-inspired escape rooms. And the students and teens learn about themselves, too, along the way.
Teen Tech Squad Moves Forward
From the Teen Tech Squad Perspective
Each year, up to 34 high school students are employed that receive invaluable mentoring and leadership training.
The Impact of Teen Tech Squad
Nearly 1,000 young people from eight underserved neighborhoods participate in the TTS program each year, and up to 34 high school students are employed. For these teen leaders, TTS is a powerful employment experience, with wages of $15/hour, mentoring, and leadership training. Leaders are given responsibilities for program design, curriculum development, safety planning, and workshop facilitation that few teenagers—or even young adults—ever get to experience. The teens measure success in smiles and experiences and confidence alongside attendance. When asked about the impact of the program, they cite stories, cherished memories, and lessons learned about themselves and others.
TTS Objectives Remain Unchanged
Anoka High School senior Kathryn tells us, “Teen Tech Squad has meant so much to me because I’ve learned about myself through this. I can learn so much from other people. It’s just blessed me so much.” For Osseo High School senior Owen, who is attending Stanford this fall to study robotics engineering, being a part of the Teen Tech Squad has been about reaching a hand back to others. His favorite part of the program is “how the kids are so passionate, and they’re so sure about everything they know. I just love the creativity. It reminds me of how creative my community is, and it’s helped push me toward trying to create other opportunities for other people.”
Teens have been finding innovative ways to continue to offer education, inspiration, and opportunity for youth.
Engaging from Afar
The heart of the Teen Tech Squad program are these connections, both within the team and with the kids. Understandably, then, the inability to gather has been a tricky transition. But Teen Leaders in every squad have been finding innovative answers to the challenge of how to connect over distance without losing the true magic of the program. They focus on developing valuable new skills in creating, filming, producing, and distributing engaging and educational online content. Squads are using a variety of platforms to engage diverse audiences, like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and their own websites. The Brooklyn Park Library and Cedar-Riverside squads websites are examples of how teen leaders—driven by their mission—continue to offer education, inspiration, and opportunity for youth. They are also building networks with youth in similar programs across the country to share tips and ideas. Their courses have included visualizations of how soap repels viruses, scientifically grounded home cooking lessons, and fun STEM projects using ordinary household objects.
The North Regional Library Squad has partnered with Minneapolis Parks to offer STEM lessons at outdoor events this summer.
The Future of TTS Depends on Generous Support of Friends Like You
With the support of donors, Friends of the Hennepin County Library is contributing more than $100,000 to Teen Tech Squad in 2020, which will allow the continued development of future leaders in STEAM like the Brooklyn Park team. The generous support of library Friends also offers our adult mentors and teen leaders the opportunity to pivot quickly to meet the challenges of today when the communities served by our eight Teen Tech Squads across Hennepin County are hit the most by hardship. Despite the challenges teams are facing during this time of physical distancing, these determined teens are not looking to slow down anytime soon. Owen says, “It’s exciting to always try and outdo ourselves. We’re constantly trying to up what we did last time and make kids even happier and more excited about what’s possible. It’s just fun.”