Summer is a favorite time for students (and teachers) everywhere—no early mornings, tedious homework or bland school lunches. But after the first week of glorious relaxation, what do kids do when they have the whole summer free, and few prospects for keeping busy?
Hop on a bus! That’s right, both Minneapolis and Saint Paul offer circulator buses (Circulators) to children and youth during the summer. The free Circulators provide safe, reliable rides to libraries, parks, recreation centers and non-profit programs in the community.
The Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board (YCB) is an inter-governmental organization that is, in part, examining ways of strengthening “out of school time” activities. Part of this initiative includes offering transportation to young people to get to programs and activities in their communities. “Youth Are Here” buses first began running in the summer of 2007, and more than 5,000 children and youth took advantage of the free service.
To see schedules for the You^th Are Here buses in Minneapolis, or to register to ride, visit www.ycb.org or call the Youth Coordinating Board at (612)673-2060.
Separate buses travels routes in both north and south Minneapolis from noon to 8:00 p.m. weekdays. Designated stops provide young people access to parks and recreation centers, community organizations and libraries that offer activities throughout the day. Riding the bus is free, but users need to register in advance to receive a “Youth Are Here” bus card.
Councilperson Elizabeth Glidden serves Ward 8 in Minneapolis and acts as Chair of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board. Glidden says that in upcoming months, the organization will be working with the University of Minnesota to do an evaluation of the buses to better quantify or qualify their benefits. “The number of youth served is one measurement,” Glidden affirms, “but another might be how buses have helped the various drop-off site organizations or whether or not the use of them [is promoting] new relationships or opportunities for kids.”
The Youth Coordinating Board has a Youth Congress of 55 kids from across the City. In a recent evaluation by this group, the buses were one of the top recommended programs to maintain. “[This was] just another confirmation that the buses were something valuable in minds of young people.” Says Glidden.
In St. Paul, three very different neighborhoods use Circulators to transport children and youth around West St. Paul, the Phalen/Payne area and Dayton’s Bluff.
The oldest program, the West Side Circulator started in 2003 through the grassroots efforts of organizations, parents and neighbors. Transportation had been a barrier to participation in community-based learning opportunities, and the Circulator began as a community solution to transportation for youth in the neighborhood.
Derek Johnson is the director of West Side work with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Jane Addams through the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Since 2003, Johnson has worked with the West Side, assisting with grant writing, planning the Circulator schedule and connecting programs.
The Circulator has made an immense difference in the lives of the youth on the West Side.
“[Youth] have learned how to plan their activities such as reading a bus schedule . . . it’s a skill they didn’t have before,” says Johnson. “They’ve gained confidence in figuring out what’s available and how to get there.” Johnson also says that the Circulator “makes it possible for them to get involved in lots of things and find their niche . . . they get to go to parts of the neighborhood didn’t go to before.”
According to Kari Denissen, the Coordinator of the Second Shift Initiative with the Office of Mayor Coleman, “It’s more of a place-based approach. “The community wanted young people to have a sense of connection and belonging in a certain place . . .a support network.”
Children or teens can hop on the Circulator and ride free of charge to specific community organizations such as Neighborhood House/ El Rio Vista and the Boys and Girls Club, where learning and community involvement activities take place. They may also use the bus to visit friends or go to neighborhood playgrounds.
Last year, the Phalen/Payne and Dayton’s Bluff communities created their own Circulators based on the model in West St. Paul. Denissen says that because the West Side came together around a community vision, they believed that in order for the East Side buses to be successful, community organizations and programs needed have a buy-in and be invested. The group was established and is now called the East Side Learning Collaborative.
On the East Side routes, kids need to register in advance by signing up for a bus card through the Dayton’s Bluff Recreation Center. Eight Circulator youth workers from the St. Paul Youth Job Corps ride the buses to supervise the rides. Denissen says, “We encourage them act as experts to guide the kids to various activities.” In the summer of 2007, just over 2100 children and youth used the East Side Circulators for rides.
Betsy Mowry works as an arts administrator with COMPAS and the Arts & Culture Partnership of St. Paul.