Columbia North YMCA partners with Best Buy, The Clubhouse Network to improve youth tech equity in Philly
The partnership has resulted in the recently opened Best Buy Teen Tech Center near Temple University’s campus, which will serve to engage youth through technology.
The Columbia North YMCA on North Broad Street is now sheltering a new center that will empower Philadelphia youth by providing tech access and improving tech equity in the community.
The Best Buy Teen Tech Center, which opened in May, is devoted to enabling Philadelphia youth to utilize technology to explore, experiment and create. It will serve as a collaborative arts and innovative space, a leadership training center and a community safe space.
Local youth will be given the opportunity to develop skills through hands-on activities that explore their interests in programming, film-making, music production, design and more, with the goal of its direction to be largely student-directed as they decide where they’d like to place their focus and attention.
“The YMCA measures success by its impact in three areas: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. This Teen Tech Center is a perfect marriage of those areas of focus, and holds endless possibilities for empowering our area’s youth,” said Shaun Elliott, CEO of the Greater Philadelphia YMCA, in a statement.
The Center is the result of a partnership with Best Buy, whose foundation provided a grant; and The Clubhouse Network, who implemented a model to provide safe and creative learning environments for students outside of the school.
Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the digital divide and technology shortages that many of the city's communities face.
A 2019 Philadelphia School District survey found that just 45% of 3rd through 5th grade students had access to the internet at home. For students in grades 6th through 8th and 9th through 12th, the numbers were 56% and 58%, respectively.
This level of access has made it difficult for many students in the city to keep up with learning, socializing and engaging.
When area schools began to shut down during the early months of the pandemic, the city and School District partnered to help make remote learning possible for all students. This included increased information on broadband access availability and spending up to $11 million to provide thousands of Chromebooks to K-12 students who needed one.
The Teen Tech Center hopes to be another valuable added resource in addressing the digital divide and tech inequity in the city, as well as provide a new community safe space as in-person learning returns for the 2021-22 academic school year.
“We’re thrilled to be working with such a strong local community organization in partnership with Best Buy to establish a warm and welcoming learning space for teens to express themselves creatively,” said Gail Breslow, Executive Director of The Clubhouse Network, in a statement.
Philadelphia now joins more than 30 other locations across North America as part of Best Buy’s initiative to work towards bridging the digital divide across the continent. The goal is to have over 100 different Centers and reach at least 30,000 teens by 2025.
Best Buy’s investment provides professional camera equipment, all-in-one desktops, a full music and production studio, a 3-D print, VR equipment, smart home technology, drawing tablets, professional-grade software and staff support all with the goal of helping students engage with technology on a deeper level.
“Each location works to reduce tech inequity by giving teens access to tech education opportunities, relationships that help to build confidence, and a foundation for school and career success,” said Andrea Wood, Best Buy Vice President of Social Impact, in a statement.
The Columbia North YMCA Teen Tech Center is located at 1400 N. Broad Street and is open to all teens ages 13 to 19. Hours are Mondays through Fridays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found here.
This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.