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Arlington Hills teen center already a hub of activity
First of its kind for St. Paul, teen tech area serving its purpose
It’s about a month into the opening of the new teen center at Arlington Hills Community Center, and the place is already abuzz.
On a Wednesday afternoon, a smattering of kids could be seen hanging out, playing a Playstation 4, using iPads, or simply chatting with friends while sitting on the furniture in the new Createch Studio, a first of its kind for St. Paul.
The teen center is in the basement of the community center, just a few steps from the facility’s sizeable gymnasium, and is a joint venture between St. Paul Public Libraries and St. Paul Parks and Recreation. The space is dedicated to serving kids age 13 to 19 -- in fact, if you’re younger than 13 or older than 19, you’re going to have a hard time getting in.
In order to use the facility, a teen has to become a member of the teen center and sign up, verifying his or her birth date, either with St. Paul Public Schools database information, or with other identifiers such as a birth certificate or ID.
According to the community center website, the space is intended to provide “access and hands-on opportunities to hang out with current and emerging technology, mess around with new equipment, and geek out.”
The facility is host to a variety of technology, including laptops with the Adobe creative suite, sewing machines, interactive drawing tablets, and soon will host a recording studio for teens.
While it’s full of high tech gear and intended to be a place of learning, it’s also simply a place for area teens to hang out.
Alaina Kozma, coordinator for the teen facility, said staff have already signed up well over 200 kids as members of the space, and that new faces are appearing every day. A lot of the teen center’s staffing is currently dedicated to signing kids up as they roll through the new spot, she said. But, they’re hiring more staff, and are hoping to overcome that particular hurdle shortly.
Danielle Fleming, a recreation leader at the community center, said the teen center has become a safe, creative hangout for a lot of kids, and that it’s seeing steady use.
“Every day there’s a new crowd,” she said.
Fleming said that for the most part, any unruly behavior on the part of the teens has been limited to some swearing, which, all things considered, isn’t too bad.
“If their biggest problem is cussing, that’s OK with me,” she said.
The place is open Monday to Thursday between 3 and 8 p.m. and Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m., and most of the time there are at least 20 teens milling about.
A space of their own
On a recent Wednesday, Nana, 14, was keen to express her approval of the facility. She said she’s been routinely walking from her nearby home to use the iPads, play video games and hang out with friends.
“I think it’s very convenient,” she said.
17-year-old Tysheana said she’s been coming to the community center regularly. She was just hired at the facility, where she hopes to be a good role model for younger kids as well as for her peers.
She said with a big gym available for kids to use and iPads, video games, and other activities in the teen center, “it will keep kids out of trouble.”
Neighborhood full of youth
While Kozma said she knew there were a lot of teens in the area, it’s another thing altogether to see them all there in front of you in the new space.
“There are so many teens,” she said. “It speaks to how many youth there are in the neighborhood.”
She said the most popular attractions have been the video games, the iPads, and the furniture -- “(teens) just coming and hanging out,” she said. Most are from the immediate vicinity, she added.
The kickoff party on Friday, June 13, saw well over 100 people. The event featured everything from traditional Hmong cultural dances to freestyle rappers.
Fleming said one highlight so far of the teen center’s short history was when four older male teens, perceived as “tough guys,” came into the teen center after playing basketball and played a dancing video game. They ended up dancing to an Aladdin song before a small crowd.
As Fleming put it, the older boys felt comfortable simply being goofy and being themselves in the space.
Antoine Miles, 17, works at the new Arlington Hills Library and said he likes the new place, but prefers Rice Street recreation center, where it’s a bit quieter.
Miles was on the teen advisory committee that provided a teen’s perspective on what should be put in the new teen center.
He smirkingly complained about the fact that a Playstation 4 is set up, rather than a Microsoft Xbox.
“I think it’s cool,” interjected his friend Kim, who added that the Arlington Hills staff are kind. And with a lot of her friends hanging around the rec center, she plans to make it a regular part of her summer.
“I think I’m going to be coming here a lot,” she said.
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.