This spring and summer I was given the opportunity to put together a program which introduced a cohort of teens to a suite of low-code/no-code tools. These tools included Google Sheets, WordPress, Glide, and Appsheet.
Thanks to Nexus Community Partners, Keystone’s Best Buy Teen Tech Center, and Zion Lutheran Church, the first cohort of teens were able to work with me for a five week period and learn about how they can use the digital tools at their disposal to solve a community-based problem.
One of the challenges that I had to contend with was choosing a community-based problem for the students to focus on. Throughout my work in the community, and through my general participation in various community spaces, I heard and was able to source several possible problems:
- A means to aggregate resources for people experiencing houselessness
- A tool for discovering places to find free food
- An app for more readily posting and navigating posts relating to a local, free snow shoveling service
In the end we ended up focusing on a companion app for the free snow shoveling service, The Saintly City Snow Angels. This problem was ideal for this cohort because I spent a couple weeks in the winter of 2022 working on a solution for this very problem. It ultimately turned into a reason to continue working on the previously developed framework. While we had a framework established, the app was still rough around the edges, and thus able to be spun as a learning opportunity for the students.
The main issue we were confronted with was timing. The inital turnout of interested students was around 10 registrants, but in the end we had four active participants. After polling those students, I found that most of them were bending over backwards to make the class work with their schedule.
On top of this, and with this being the first pass at the program, the initial framework for the class wasn’t entirely realistic to execute on within the five weeks that we had together. This meant tweaking the format to better cater to the current needs of the teens. Ideally, we would spend at least a month focused on each tool, and roll up their learnings into one large project.
One of the most exciting aspects about this engagement was the opportunity to mentor these teens not only through issues they were having with the tools we were working with, but also issues within their everyday lives. I was approached for assistance with navigating time management and balancing an increasing workload as they prepare for college, tips about applying for jobs that they were excited about, but didn’t know how to get their foot in the door, and even questions about engaging with romantic interests!
I believe this type of program is crucial, and I am not alone in this. The kids are not okay, and they do need all of the things that the digital age has deprived them of. Day after day we hear about a lack of meaningful physical interactions, or a general degradation in the quality of engagements. As one of my friends once said, “where is the local hootenanny?”
For the next cohort I am excited to strive towards increasing the amount of time we spend together. In a podcast I frequently listen to, the host and his guest got to talking about a gap year program in relation to the development of social skills and opportunities to meaningfully engage with peers and the community. I believe this is the way. By pairing the notion of a gap year, a period of time in which one does some amount of soul searching and general experimentation, with the idea of solving a community-based problem, I believe we can introduce our youth to to ideas of engagement with their peers and the community, and also embed the notion that we can solve, or at least recognize and begin to chip away at our comunity-based problems from within.