SESP collaborates with YMCA on Evanston youth educational center

Christine Farolan, Copy Chief

Professors from the School of Education and Social Policy are collaborating with the McGaw YMCA of Evanston to create an innovative learning environment for underserved middle school students.

Construction begins this month to build the new MetaMedia Youth Center at the YMCA, which received a $1 million donation from local nonprofit Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation in September. The YMCA will renovate a wing of its Grove Street building for the center, aimed at engaging youth in activities relating to STEAM topics — science, technology, engineering, arts and design and math.

The center will offer a few different programs, including FUSE, a project developed by SESP Profs. Kemi Jona and Reed Stevens. FUSE seeks to create an “interest-driven learning environment” by allowing adolescents to choose from a variety of online challenges in areas like robotics, electronics, graphic design, app development and 3D printing.

“The tricky thing is, how do you get a kid who doesn’t like math or science or maybe even doesn’t like school to change their mind about it?” Jona said. “So that’s really what we’ve set out to do with FUSE.”

Since its inception three years ago, FUSE has been implemented in 30 schools and libraries in the Chicago area and reaches about 3,000 students.

FUSE will provide the center with staffing support, but other “self-directed learning” opportunities will be available as well, said Monique Parsons, chief operating officer at the YMCA.

“The vision for MetaMedia is that it will be a space that fosters creative opportunity and connective learning,” Parsons said.

MetaMedia will connect adolescents to Northwestern student mentors. The center is also developing programming involving simple audio mixing and recording, photography and poetry and spoken word workshops, Jona said.

“It’s really a range of things that kids are interested in that bring them in and make them feel productive and empowered,” Jona said.

The center is a joint effort by NU, the YMCA and Youth Organizations Umbrella, a local youth development agency.

The center has been planned for nearly a year. Parsons explained the project partners were brought together by Chuck Lewis of the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation.

MetaMedia is expected to open January 2015.

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