Sunday 7 October 2012

Project Next Generation

On a recent trip to the US I had the pleasure of meeting with Cynthia Smith and Alyce Jackson of the Peoria Public Library to talk about Project Next Generation.

‘The goal of Next Generation is to bridge the digital divide by making recent technologies accessible to students who have limited access to computers. At the same time, the program strives to provide a safe and friendly environment filled with positive role models.’

In Peoria, Project Next Generation has been running at the Lincoln branch since 2002. The Lincoln Branch of the Peoria Public Library opened in 1911 with a new addition opened in 2011. This new addition included a state of the art computer lab where the Next Generation session takes place.

The session participants complete homework and work on projects using a variety of technology. Past projects include a newsletter and a science fair. Initially the library approached schools to refer students to the program but now after a decade the program has such a positive reputation the program is at capacity. The volunteer mentors come from a variety of fields and guest speakers also come to talk about different aspects of technology. 

This area of Peoria has a particular need because without this program many of these young people would not otherwise have computer access for academic or personal pursuits. (note the burned out building just outside of the Library's computer lab) But the program goes beyond serving just the academic needs by supporting whole person. Mentors regularly go beyond technology training by offering guidance and perspective to these young people. 

While talking, I heard the story about one young participant who came into the program at the bottom half of his class. He was struggling and was particularly anxious about public speaking and presenting in front of his peers. After participating in Next Generation his was at the top of his class and also presented at the Library’s science fair in front of students and adults. I do not doubt that these results are seen time and time again in this program. 

Nitty gritty-
  • Target students in years 5-8
  • Volunteers and librarians plan out the sessions, goals and support.
  • Sessions are run by tech savvy volunteers from the local community (librarians help out when needed)
  • Weekly sessions take place in 10 week blocks during the school year and some summer classes occur as wellParents sign a contact to promise students attend sessions
  • Group sessions are small (no more  than 13 participants per session)
  • The program is run at no cost to participants

For more information see Project Next Generation. Thank you to Cynthia and Alyce for taking time out of their busy schedules to show me around and answer so many questions. I found my visit very inspiring. It is amazing to see how one library can have such a postivei impact in their community.

-Amy Barker

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