Beyond the Bell Milwaukee and UWM create app for teens

Teens now have more than 250 things to do at their fingertips, thanks to a new app the UWM App Brewery developed in collaboration with Beyond the Bell Milwaukee.

Staffed by the Center for Youth Engagement, Beyond the Bell is a coalition of youth-serving organizations, funders, policymakers and youth. The group coordinates efforts to increase young people’s access to high quality programs and learning opportunities outside the school day. UWM’s App Brewery, which handled technical development of the new Beyond the Bell app, gives university students real-life development experience working with nonprofit clients.

The Center for Youth Engagement is launching and demonstrating the app during a press conference at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, at Discovery World, 500 N. Harbor Dr. The launch is part of a leadership briefing for policymakers, funders and agency leaders, which will be followed by Beyond the Bell’s Annual Institute – 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, at UWM’s Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, 1240 N. 10th St.

The Beyond the Bell app is designed to give youth access to after-school activities and expanded learning opportunities, said Reggie Moore, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Engagement.

Teens need less alone time

The new app for teens gives them information and location of after-school programs on their phones. (UWM Photo/Derek Rickert)
The new app for teens gives them information and location of after-school programs on their phones. (UWM Photo/Derek Rickert)

According the most recent study by the national Afterschool Alliance, more than 11.3 million teens and children are left alone after school. National studies also show most juvenile crime occurs between 3 and 11 p.m.

More than 43,000 Milwaukee youth participate in afterschool programs each year, but young people in low-income communities are least likely to have opportunities to learn, play and thrive during out-of-school time hours, according to Beyond the Bell. The problems are particularly acute in Milwaukee, which has one of the highest rates of childhood poverty in the country.

“The core purpose of this app is to provide a tool to enhance young people’s awareness of the programs and services available to them.” Moore said. “This is innovation for good.”

According to a 2013 survey of nearly 1,200 young people conducted by Beyond the Bell, teens identified that “lack of program awareness” was the number one barrier to afterschool engagement. Other barriers included family responsibilities and lack of transportation. However, access to information is one issue Beyond the Bell could tackle easily. In 2013, Beyond the Bell hired youth through the Mayor Barrett’s Earn & Learn program to map approximately 250 different programs and services for young people – ranging from afterschool activities to college access centers to the locations of food pantries.

After testing and building a website, the group decided it was important to add an app to reach teens through their smart phones. “Mostly adults use websites; Teens use their phones,” Moore said.

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