HYPE Teen Center
The key to attracting teens is giving them a sense of ownership over the programming provided for them. That’s the lesson behind the Detroit Public Library’s HYPE Teen Center, which draws teens with opportunities to develop their creativity in a sleek, modern space dedicated to their use.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Detroit Public Library’s Teen Specialist and Assistant Manager for Childrens’ Programming Linda Curley-Brown:
It’s all of those, simply because our number one thing really is offering a space and a place just for teens. HYPE enhances their lives by allowing them to do different kinds of things. It helps them be more innovative and more creative. It’s also a place to relax and a place they can call their own when they come to the library. They have access to resources and information -- all of that with the difference of it being a great place for teens.
Some of the programming we do, like our Makerspace program, our summer reading program, and our business camp, have teens pretty involved and interested. They can really enhance their whole learning opportunity by participating in the different programs.
They learn how to maintain, build, and repair bikes; we partner with the HUB bike center in the city and they come over and do workshops on that. We have crafting, sewing wearables, and paper crafting. There is also professional Arduino robotics, so they learn the basics of electronic wiring and can build their own working robots, and they can learn to build amplifiers and speakers.
We also have an Author Day that goes year round. We have a big finale program that’s inspiring, because they get to meet authors, learn how to publish their books, and do creative writing.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
I was really pleased that the teens were so engaged in the hands-on experiences they had. It made quite an impact. They were saying that they learned things they never learned before. The best lesson we learned is that we have to continue this programming, keeping these hands-on kinds of activities that get kids totally engaged in their learning. They are learning that learning can be fun -- it doesn’t have to be a rote thing.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
We learned we really need to be hands on to keep our summer program going and keep it managed properly, and making sure the funds are being used properly. You want to do all of these things, but it’s a lot of do from a management standpoint. It just requires a lot of hands-on management, and you have to get right in there with them doing things, keeping everything straight, and making sure you get things going on a continuing basis and keep the teens coming back. I don’t know how hard that was — it was actually a lot of fun for us too. It was just things we needed to do to integrate the learning experience all the way around, not just for them but for us as well.
The big picture is trying to keep them engaged after they have been in school all day and have had enough work to do. It really gets hard to get them to stay focused when they prefer to do fun things. We have DVD players and game systems here where they can do what they want, but we also put in academic things. We have “brainpower hour,” and we put on math or physics things -- then we try and get them to just look up and tell them they might learn something.
When it’s really crowded in here, it’s sometimes hard to manage a big crowd. If you can grab the leader out of this group, the leader can get five or six more. You’re never going to get all of them engaged in everything but we get anywhere from 6-12 of them engaged per activity. After school we have 35-40 kids in there depending on how cold it is!
What really differentiates this program?
We do a registration form when they come in, where they put down their hobbies and interests. We really try to target those hobbies and those interests with our programming. We try to partner with other organizations that offer things teens are really interested in.
Teens love having a space they can call their own -- and it’s so cool. HYPE stands for Helping Young People Excel. It was named by one of the young ladies that came here through a naming contest. We have a teen advisory board, and our core group chose the furniture. They really like this space because they helped design it. They really own the place because they got a chance to actually have some input as to how things would go.
One of the reasons we have a teen advisory board is that they help give us the cool things to get in terms of materials, books, etc. The input from them really differentiates us. If you get the input from them and make it their own space they are more apt to participate in the things going on.
What are the keys to success for your program?
The main key is keeping those teens engaged in our programming and emphasizing that this is their space so they have to keep it clean. They know this is their space and the key to success is that teens are the driving force. We’re trying to keep up with what their interests are and enhance that, and help that to grow and develop. It’s a safe environment -- adults are not allowed in here, so it’s just for them. They know we’re enforcing the rules so that it is a safe environment and a place they can come and feel good about being.
How do you innovate programming? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?
We have the teen advisory committee, and sometimes when we staff members have ideas we take it to them and ask what they think. We have to keep including the latest technology and the things they have an affinity for. If every program is something that allows them to express themselves and be creative and innovative, it’s going to work if it includes that. Whatever they are doing, they get a chance to pull it off.