South Park Offers Outstanding Program
If there's light at the end of the tunnel for the citizens of South Park, look for it in the glow of a computer monitor.
Part of the South Park Community Center, South Park CTC exists as a result of grants from the Seattle-King County Workforce Development Council (formerly the Seattle-King County Private Industry Council), and the Department of Education. Sustainability is a big issue for the lab.
Built in 1989, South Park Community Center is funded by Seattle Parks & Recreation, but staffing for the CTC is not.
The idea of equating community technology with recreation is fairly new. According to lab coordinator Ellen Earth, "Even though Parks and Rec promotes community technology in their brochures and web sites, there's no funding or support to these programs from the department. And because of the downturn in the economy, it's questionable whether they're going to be fiscally in a position to do that."
Volunteers could make all the difference for South Park. Volunteering enhances leadership skills and could help keep the lab open longer each day so it can better serve the community.
But, according to Earth, volunteers are hard to come by. "A number of people have said yes, I want to volunteer. Then they come back and say, 'I've just lost my job.' Somebody else will want to volunteer, but just got a job."
Earth says that she wants to "...get people excited about being able to learn, about coming here. My goal for the center is for it to be seen as a resource ... where young people and adults can come and kick down the limitations in their lives. They can do things (here) that they never thought they'd be able to do. It's the same for language or anything. You can really be brought up to an equal footing with other people when you learn to use the computer. Computer knowledge levels the playing field."
The lab offers some really outstanding program, like Kid's Place, which is geared toward K-8 youngsters. It painlessly teaches math, social studies and science, plus reading and grammar in Spanish and English. The staff is looking into offering financial management program, too.
Giant Campus teaches technology program to kids, aged 10 and older. It offers a project based, integrated approach to C++ programming, game design, robotics, web design, 3-d animation, digital media experience. In a world where 90% of all jobs require technology proficiency, Giant Campus' technology skills can open the door to job success in South Park.
Destiny Scott, 14, is a student at Denny Middle School and lives in Burien. She read about South Park in a flyer her mother brought home from Seattle Center. Destiny's learning digital design -- web, graphics and games at the moment -- through the Giant Campus program. She has a computer at home but still comes to the lab.
"These computers are better than mine. I'm kind of jealous of them. They're really good, plus they have the Giant Campus which you can use. It's just really fun."
She's excited about Giant Campus, and glad to have free access to the program. Linux and Windows dual boot bilingual operating systems are available to the community.
"You can just do a whole bunch of stuff with it. And why go buy the program if you can use it at your community center?"
"Mainly, it teaches me a lot about photography and different filters you can use. Eventually, you can put it all together and make a game. And that's what a lot of kids come here for. To make their own games. And I use it just because it will help me with school and different projects," she said. "In a way, I'm a computer geek. I can figure out anything. I've been teaching my sister how to use the computer for a few years now. Whenever she touches it, it freezes. (laughs) I love computers. But I never knew anything about design. So I'm learning that here."
She plans to build her own web site, and use the knowledge she gains at school.
"First of all, I'll probably put up my own site. My friends can go to it and I can brag about it. And it will help me with school stuff. If I run for student government, it will help me design flyers and posters."
Destiny is having fun while learning vital skill sets that are correlated to the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS).
South Park is one of Seattle's poorest neighborhoods. Populated by low income, predominantly Hispanic and white residents, it is geographically isolated from other Seattle communities. Located on the west bank of the Duwamish River in southwest Seattle, the area once hosted Italian and Japanese farmers who supplied fresh produce to Seattle's Pike Place Market. Back in 1907, with a population of 1,500, it was annexed by Seattle. Joining Seattle afforded South Park the advantages of electric and water utilities.
The tiny community now contains many residential homes and is heavily industrialized. Over the past century, considerable amounts of chemicals have been released into the Duwamish River. More than 100 storm drains, combined sewer overflows, and miscellaneous outfalls empty into the river, and PCBs and other contaminants have been found in the local fish and groundwater. It was designated as a Superfund Site on September 13, 2001.
"I'd love to see this lab being used as a place where people can come and say, 'I'm gonna write my congressman,'” according to Earth. “Or, 'I'm gonna go check this chemical out because it's seeping up in my basement.' And people can use the library online from the lab. Just getting the library into our neighborhood is a big deal."
"The problem we're facing right now is future funding for staff. And we haven't overcome that yet. So, where they can help us is in assisting with volunteer coordination, doing fundraising activities, writing grants, helping us to be a program, even though we may not be funded by them. To be acknowledged and to be seen as a program that can be used by Kids Place, by the teen development program, by the sports folks. (I want us to be) seen as a valid and legitimate and important asset to the entire recreation community."
The lab provides neighborhood computer access and skills to populations of all ages. South Park CTC currently offers limited after-school programming for middle and high school students, and morning classes for seniors. It offers free child care while adults who want to acquire valuable computer skills attend classes. But few adults, with the exception of seniors, visit the lab.
"People are really busy,” said Earth. “Part of the problem is, too, that we don't have the staffing to keep the lab open in the evening. The other thing that's going to inhibit us is that all the community centers, because of the citywide budget cuts, are not going to be opening until 1:00 beginning at the first of the year. So we're going to have shortened hours for the community center. The lab offers open access Mondays through Thursdays from 2:30 until 5:30. So that's not a lot. And that's the time for the young people. We have seniors training seniors in the mornings."
Is this lab living up to its potential to improve the community?
"Yes and no," according to Earth. “One of the things I'd like to see is increased partnership with the organizations that we have around here. For instance, the librarian at the elementary school called up and is interested in working with us on the Liberty Kids program. So that's one partnership that would be very helpful.
"At this point," she said, "we've just been measuring (success) by the number of attendees. We measure how many of a particular age group are in attendance. That's not really sufficient.
"Another way (to measure success) is watching someone move from one level of competency to the next. So, for instance, one of the challenges that I offered here was, 'If you can take apart and put together one of the computers we have here, you can take it home.' So a number of people have done that, in partnership with the Seattle Community Network computer giveaway program."
“And there's ECOS,” said Earth, “which is an environmental coalition in town. They've come in and worked with us on different things. We’re making our fast Internet access available to them on any research that they might want to do on different chemicals or things like that. We also assist with web site design. There's a high school program out at South and they have come and asked for help. That's the kind of thing where I would like more assistance, more volunteers at the center to help with those kinds of things.
In cooperation with public television station KCTS, seven to 12-year-old budding writers at the lab will participate in Liberty Kids after school writing workshops this fall. The primary goal of the Liberty's Kids TV series is to provide a fresh and exciting experience of the extraordinary period of 1773 to 1789 in American history. From October to December, they'll explore what it means to be an American.
South Park, Rainier, Rainier Beach, Garfield, Miller, Yesler, and Delridge Parks and Recreation Community Center Computer Labs are partnering, through a grant from the City of Seattle's Tech Matching Fund, to provide a series of computer camps for youth ages 11 to 17. These camps will include instruction in advanced computer skills such as visual basic, web design, and digital arts. This project will also increase the services available to all residents at these computer labs by providing technical support to participating computer labs and training opportunities for staff and volunteers.