Routes and Recipes: Navigating Saint Paul’s Learning Opportunities

By Christie Vogt, Sprockets Communications and Network Associate

July 30, 2014

It’s one thing to have quality youth programs in the city; it’s another thing making sure youth have access to those experiences—experiences like shopping for Russian potato latke ingredients with your peers.

Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education class uses Metro Transit passes through Sprockets

“Who wants to pull the bus cord?” Two hands on one body shoot into the air first. “Oh, oh, me!” exclaims the winner of the coveted task. “Cooking for Beginners,” a Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education class, is headed on a field trip to Mississippi Market. They’ll reach the natural foods co-op after a short bus ride on Metro Transit, using fare passes they applied for through Sprockets. The cooking course is part of YOUniversity, a collection of youth summer classes on everything from photography to acting. Later this afternoon, another class, “Cooking Around the World,” will get their turn riding the bus and exploring the co-op.

Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education class at Mississippi Market after using Metro Transit passes through Sprockets

This is the second summer that Sprockets has purchased and distributed Metro Transit passes to organizations with the goal of helping youth programs access the city’s many learning resources through field trips. Equitable access is one of the key strategies on the Sprockets Logic Map, and initiatives like these are one way the network is working to break down barriers to out-of-school time learning and the opportunity gap.

The Saint Paul Youth Commission has also been working on improving their peers’ understanding of public transit. Three of those commissioners were part of the Sprockets Transportation Work Group, which was convened this winter to work on key strategies that improve young people’s access to learning opportunities. One of the final recommendations was for Sprockets to support programs to use Metro Transit for field trips in order to increase awareness of and familiarity with transit options.

Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education class at Mississippi Market after using Metro Transit passes through Sprockets

Rachel Katkar, Community Education Program Assistant with Saint Paul Public Schools, spoke about how the pass opportunity has affected this particular program. “Without the bus passes, the cost of renting a bus is $200-plus," she explains. "Travel by walking would triple the time taken, be potentially dangerous at busy intersections, and take valuable time away from learning about cooking.”

In addition to time and cost savings, Rachel noted the benefit of youth being able to “connect with local business owners” through field trips and how the passes “provide formerly unaccustomed youth an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of public transportation.” When asked for a verdict on the bus ride after arriving at Mississippi Market, a first-timer responded simply, “It was quick.” Another student assessed, “Five out of five stars.”

Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education class at Mississippi Market after using Metro Transit passes through Sprockets

Several other groups are planning or have already taken field trips this summer with passes from Sprockets. Earlier this month, Youth Farm hopped on the Green Line at Dale Street Station with a group of 40 youth bound for the Twins Game at Target Field.

As for the cooking class, Mississippi Market’s Krysta Tanico welcomed the group into their community kitchen/classroom with a brief overview of the co-op’s history and offerings. “The word co-op in our name is short for cooperative,” Krysta explains. “Do you guys know anything about what that might mean for a store like us?”

Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education class at Mississippi Market after using Metro Transit passes through Sprockets

“Working together,” one student offers. “Get along well,” another responds. The students listen as Krysta explains how their cooperative works and how it’s different from traditional grocery stores. Then they head out towards the colorful maze of goods for a grand tour of the market.

Krysta points out different signs, foods, and systems throughout the store. She touches on topics like what it means when a sticker says organic or fair trade, how grocery stores can work with local farmers, and how to help the environment by doing simple things like bringing your own containers to the store. And then an important question emerges from the group as they linger next to a mountain of produce: “Aren’t plantains just bananas?”

Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education class at Mississippi Market after using Metro Transit passes through Sprockets

After the tour, it’s back to the Mississippi Market classroom with their Community Education instructor Katia Cardenas. The youth are looking through recipes and trying to decide their plan of action for purchasing ingredients. One group is tackling the Greek salad and potato pancakes. “What’s a potato pancake?” one boy asks. “It’s a pancake made out of potatoes,” his teammate assists.

At another table they’re trying to figure out if the ingredient price list is in pounds or ounces. After being asked if he has cooked before, one student replies, “According to Katia, no.” What do you mean? “She doesn’t consider the microwave as cooking.” His teammate is a bit more experienced—he specializes in Alfredo sauce, thanks to his mother.

Whether it’s through cooking, dancing, or robot-making, the Sprockets network has a vision that all of Saint Paul’s youth will develop their abilities as learners, contributors, and navigators so they can recognize and achieve their greatest potential. With equitable access initiatives like these, young people are navigating their community and lives.

Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education class at Mississippi Market after using Metro Transit passes through Sprockets

Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education class goes to Mississippi Market after using Metro Transit passes through Sprockets