Tech-Laden Learning Centers Offer Opportunities to Underserved Kids

Funding from electronics retailer Best Buy is giving underserved communities access to high-tech tools and training.

by Jamie Martines, The Tribune-Review / April 27, 2018 0
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The recording studio at the Phase 4 Learning Center in East Liberty, Pa., used to be a bathroom.

Now it's home to a computer with audio editing software, a MIDI keyboard and a sound-proofed recording booth.

Down the hall, there's a makerspace equipped with everything from a 3-D printer to a sewing kit and a dozen computers equipped with multimedia editing software and coding tools. There's a video production studio around the corner.

The newly renovated space is the first Best Buy Teen Tech Center in Pennsylvania and one of 16 in the country connecting young people in underserved communities with access to tech education. It hosted a grand opening celebration Wednesday.

"They have the talent, they have the passion -- all they need is the access to the resources," said Andrea Wood, Best Buy director of community relations.

The new partnership with Best Buy builds on Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Phase 4 Learning Center's existing relationship with the Clubhouse Network, an international program focused on providing after-school mentorship and tech training opportunities to students in underserved communities. In addition to the new Best Buy Teen Tech Center on Centre Avenue in East Liberty, Phase 4 offers a range of programs, from alternative education and diploma retrieval to other after-school programs, at locations in Pleasant Hills and East Liberty.

Students will also be encouraged to use the space and technology to research and to find solutions to issues they care about, said Aaron McKinnon, who manages Phase 4 technology programs.

"Kids started saying, 'we're having these real issues, how do we address them?'" McKinnon said.

Food deserts, education, homelessness and gender equality are just some of the issues students have expressed an interest in exploring, he said.

Moving forward, students will use the space to prepare multimedia projects--photo essays, music videos, songs, animations--to present their research and personal experiences. In addition to technical resources, the students will also have access to adult and peer mentors to guide their work, McKinnon said.

The space is open to all students middle school-age and older Monday through Friday after school.

© 2018 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.