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Community RCADE youth program sets stage for tomorrow’s opportunities

Thursday, 21 December 2017. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

 Community RCADE youth program sets stage for tomorrow’s opportunities
Bradin McClelland, foreground, a volunteer for the RCADE programs, provides mentorship and learning opportunities for young people who attend the Thursday drop-in program at Lebel Mansion.   Photo by James Van Leeuwen

Community RCADE youth program sets stage for tomorrow’s opportunities

By Auralea Boldt

“I’m not ready to go home yet,” a seven-year-old boy wails, as his mom comes to collect him.

A pack of four others ranging in age from about six to 10 run past to watch a small robot move about the space, while another child controls the movements with a computer.

It’s all happening upstairs at Lebel Mansion in Pincher Creek, during the after-school drop-in program hosted by Pincher Creek RCADE.

RCADE — yes, it’s meant to make you think of an arcade — is an acronym for Regional Centres for Arts, Design and Entrepreneurship.

Some work on taking apart computers, while others work on building them.

Sloan is a Grade 5 student at Canyon School. This is his second time dropping in.

“I’m interested in technology,” he says, “and it’s fun.”

In the last few years, the changing dynamic of the workforce has been felt perhaps nowhere more acutely than in rural communities.

Combine this reality with the rising cry of “The robots are coming” and it’s easy to worry what sort of opportunities will exist for the next generation.

Local consultant, entrepreneur and volunteer James Van Leeuwen isn’t worrying — he’s acting.

The RCADE concept emerged “over many cups of coffee” with friend and fellow volunteer Dan Crawford, whom James describes as a “leading community builder” in Pincher Creek.

Currently the drop-in program is free of charge and open to anyone aged five and up.

The idea is to give local kids “a broader range of learning and development opportunities.”

“It’s a creative space, and it’s meant to support development of creative and technical talent the same way an arena supports development of athletic talent,” James says.

“The RCADE is essentially a community ‘hockey rink,’ where any child, youth or adult can play, explore and develop their talent, in pursuit of their creative and technical ambitions.”

Canada’s hockey rinks produce two-thirds of the talent in the NHL — much of it coming from smaller communities.

“We must now do for our creative and technical talent what we already do for our hockey talent,” says James.

“Canada’s economic future depends on it”.

At St. Michael’s School, physician Jared Van Bussel and his wife, Rachel, run First Lego League, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math — using Lego and Lego robotics as a framework.

The program is split into two groups of learners from grades 1 to 8.

Like RCADE, they don’t underestimate the fun factor in learning. Lego is the big pull.

“It’s a way to get them into the program,” says Rachel.

This year the younger students have explored how water is treated, cleaned, brought into the home — and have even taken a field trip to the wastewater management facilities in Pincher Creek.

In the next part of the unit they are challenged to build a wastewater model out of Lego, including moving parts.

“This is where the robotics come in,” says Rachel.

“Our goal as adults in the community is to introduce kids to the things that interest us,” says Jared — “and to give them an avenue for that inspiration,” Rachel says, finishing his sentence.

Jared believes computers and programming are the “new literacy for the future,” and that people “have to become competent in programming if they want to succeed.”

Grade 5 teacher and sociologist Barbara Ann Hession encourages all of her students to attend the RCADE program.

She believes most students’ “primary portals into technology are phones and video games.”

She thinks kids may falsely believe that computer programming and projects, like building a server, are too difficult.

“RCADE is a great starting place for any age kid to begin to explore programming, technology, and the basics of computer tinkering,” she says.

“I want to see all my students learning to create apps, games and hardware components.”

According to a Canadian government study, 182,000 information technology jobs will go unfilled by 2019.

In an interview with CBC Radio, John Taylor of Livingstone Range School Division points out that schools don’t have the resources to provide the opportunities that RCADE does.

“To have long-term resilience, communities and businesses must help to build well-rounded youth for the future,” he says.

“Rural kids need the same opportunities for development as city kids, and they want them. They know that most jobs now require some level of literacy and competency with modern tools and technologies, including jobs in the agriculture and energy industries.”

These capacities are also essential for working in the world’s rapidly expanding creative industries, where millions of people already trade on their knowledge, imagination and ingenuity.

“Those frontiers of gainful opportunity are broad and deep,” James says, “and the Internet is making them far more accessible.”

“Every job is going to fall into this realm of needing some computer guidance,” says Jared. “And so basically you have to understand how the computer works, how programming works, in order for it to work well for you.”

Parents can play a big role in educational endeavours like these.

“Because of the nature, because its project based, it’s dependent on how much parental involvement there is,” Jared says.

First Lego League is somewhat of a “labour of love” for the Van Bussels. There is a fee involved, but it is their belief that programs like these in their infancy need someone to baby them.

Both would love to see the program expand. With some shared aims, they also see opportunities for a relationship or partnership with RCADE in the future.

“We need parents, grandparents and communities to invest in facilities, equipment, coaching and mentoring — just like they do for athletics,” says James.

RCADE received $10,000 in startup funding from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation two years ago, and Pincher Creek FCSS has been supporting the drop-in program.

However, securing the stable operational funding required for long-term growth has been a struggle.

James explains that industry, government and philanthropists will support a long-term project like RCADE only if the community supports it first.

Besides providing access to tools and technologies, RCADE focuses on providing mentoring and other social opportunities that help build capacities for learning, collaboration and leadership.

Failure is recognized as essential to achieving success.

“Fail, fail, fail until you succeed,” James says. “Any accomplished person will tell you that perseverance was at least as important as talent in achieving their potential.”

Looking forward, James sees development of RCADE being driven by the needs and interests of youth and children, especially where they relate to present and future needs of community and business.

James says there is a lack of girls in attendance, but he hopes that will improve over time, possibly with activities such as design and digital storytelling as drawing cards. Skilled female volunteer mentors would also be helpful.

Barbara Ann is especially hopeful that girls will attend.

“The number of women in tech fields is fast-growing in other parts of the country,” she says.

RCADE is outgrowing its current space, and is exploring solutions to accommodate growth.

“We really need a lot more participation and insight from our youth,” James says. “This is fundamentally about helping them to fulfil themselves in life, and having the generosity to support them on mutually beneficial terms.”

Whatever futures our youth and children end up building for themselves, James says that community and business will profit from helping to build their capacities for learning, creativity, leadership and entrepreneurship.

“We will be supporting the development of citizens, workers and entrepreneurs who can help us prosper into the future,” he says.

For more information on the RCADE program, James invites you to contact him at 403-627-8427 or jvl@dusk.ca.