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Rec2Tec Pittsburgh addresses digital divide with after-school programs in recreation centers


Mayor William introduces the Rec2Tec program at Phillips Recreation Center in Carrick.

Five of Pittsburgh's city-owned recreation centers were transformed into technology-enhanced learning centers during the week of September 12-16 to demonstrate how free after-school programs can help youth in city neighborhoods get a leg up in STEM learning as part of a new initiative called Rec2Tech Pittsburgh.

Each afternoon during the week, educators from local nonprofit program providers hosted hands-on learning activities for youth ages 7 to 12 years old. Sessions incorporated lessons in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and tasked participants to complete projects that help solve a community challenge. Each session also included physical activity, a healthy snack and dinner. An estimated 200 city youth participated in demonstration week activities.

The initiative -- a partnership of the Office of Mayor William Peduto, the Department of Parks & Recreation (Citiparks), the Department of Innovation & Performance and The Sprout Fund -- demonstrates how municipal assets can be leveraged to address the "digital divide."

The U.S. Department of Commerce has reported 62 percent of Americans use the Internet as an integral part of their job. However, according to the Pittsburgh Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation published by the Department of Innovation & Performance, more than 23 percent of households in Pittsburgh lack access to the internet or computer. 

"We need to help our city's young people prepare for the high-tech jobs of the future," said Mayor William Peduto. "Rec2Tech will demonstrate how we can use existing city resources to increase access to technology for and provide young people with the 21st century learning opportunities they will need to succeed in the innovation economy."

Citiparks maintains 10 community recreation centers year-round offering resources and activities to support healthy living and community enrichment.

"A lot of our city's rec centers are based in communities that are on the wrong side of the digital divide," said Jim Griffin, director of Citiparks. "Ultimately, Rec2Tech will help bridge that divide and provide access to opportunities for people in their own neighborhood."

Lead support for Rec2Tech Pittsburgh was provided by Comcast, with additional support provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

"Access to digital learning and affordable Internet service is essential," said Lisa Birmingham, vice president of External & Government Affairs for Comcast's Keystone Region, which has connected thousands of low-income City of Pittsburgh families to the Internet through its five-year-old Internet Essentials program and earlier this year provided connections at all city recreation and healthy living centers.

"Comcast is proud to support initiatives like Rec2Tech and Internet Essentials as part of our commitment to bringing technology and innovation to all Pittsburghers."

Educational programming for Rec2Tech is provided by members of the Remake Learning Network, a network of more than 250 organizations working together to shape the future of teaching and learning in the greater Pittsburgh region. The Sprout Fund, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization, stewards the Remake Learning Network and coordinated Rec2Tech programming.

"Young people spend seven hours each week in after-school programs at places like our community recreation centers. These are important places of learning, especially for young people living in under-resourced communities," said Cathy Lewis Long, executive director of The Sprout Fund. "Rec2Tech will not only help young people develop critical skills in digital literacy, but also give them opportunities to practice using technology to express their creativity, solve real-world problems, and build job-ready skills."

Rec2Tech Pittsburgh took place at Magee Rec Center in Greenfield, Ormsby Rec Center in South Side, Paulson Rec Center in Lincoln-Lemington, Phillips Park Rec Center in Carrick, and Warrington Rec Center in Beltzhoover. Program activities at each site included:

Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. and Citizen Science Lab transformed Magee Rec Center in Greenfield into a scientific laboratory where youth can explore the world of biology through hands-on experiments.

Assemble and the YMCA turned Ormsby Rec Center on the South Side into a creative technology studio where youth combined traditional art making techniques with digital media production and computer programming to produce an interactive exhibit.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh transformed Paulson Rec Center in Lincoln-Lemington into a video game design studio where youth worked in collaborative teams to create playable video games.

TechShop Pittsburgh created a research and design hub at Phillips Park Rec Center in Carrick where youth learned to use engineering techniques to design sustainable solutions for gardening in urban spaces.

Digital Corps turned Warrington Rec Center in Beltzhoover into a technology hacker space where youth captured 360° images of their neighborhood and used them to build a virtual reality experience for their own cardboard smartphone VR viewers.

Rec2Tech Pittsburgh culminated with a free public demo party at Schenley Plaza in Oakland. The Rec2Tech Demo Party featured a showcase of work by young people who have participated in Rec2Tech, as well as a resource fair of youth and family-serving agencies and a back-pack giveaway for the first 300 youth in attendance.


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