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Improving transit options for underserved youth in Kansas City

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MetroLab network has partnered with Government technology to bring its readers a segment called the MetroLab Innovation of the Month series, which highlights the impactful technology, data and innovation projects underway between cities and universities. In a special series, Innovation of the Month currently focuses on award-winning, innovative projects championed by MetroLab member universities and civic partners that have reached Stage 2 of the NSF Civic Innovation Challenge. If you would like to learn more or contact the project leaders, please contact MetroLab at [email protected] for more information.

In this month’s episode of the CIVIC Stage 2 Innovation of the Month series, we highlight the Connecting underrepresented youth to job opportunities project in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo. This project addresses barriers to accessibility that underrepresented youth face when attending after-school learning opportunities (OST) by because of the limited transportation options available to them.

MetroLab Network’s Elias Gbadamosi spoke with the team’s civic and academic partners about their implementation plan as they move toward NSF CIVIC Stage 2.


Elias Gbadamosi: What is the overriding challenge the team is tackling and what is the motivation behind it?

Kiley Larson: The overriding challenge the team will address is the lack of awareness and access to regional learning opportunities for young people, and the impact of transportation on their ability to take advantage of these opportunities.

Like many American cities, Kansas City is diverse but deeply divided. Inequitable access to out-of-school (OST) opportunities that help young people prepare for the job market and cultivate professional identities creates two fundamentally different experiences: young people from affluent homes and school districts, who are disproportionately white , have better access than youth from low-income homes and schools, who are disproportionately black and Latino. In sprawling, low-density metropolitan areas like Kansas City, a significant physical disconnect and spatial mismatch between residential areas, jobs, and OST opportunities, combined with a lack of reliable transportation services, disproportionately impacts young people from these same families.

Andrea Ellis: Meeting this challenge is important for the continued prosperity of the region. It is imperative for future growth that students from all walks of life are ready to participate in the economy. Access to quality OST opportunities can enhance and broaden their learning experiences, strengthen their connection to the community, and support the creation of a diverse and skilled workforce.

Gbadamossi: What is the impact of out-of-school opportunities for young people on their success and the development of their communities?

Jomella Watson-Thompson: OSI’s opportunities for young people are essential to their healthy and positive development, which impacts their success as individuals and contributors to their communities. Typically, OST opportunities provide experiences for youth through supported structured activities in the community, which can also provide a safe environment for children to learn, engage, and grow. Through OST activities, support is provided to young people during times when school is not in session, such as after school hours, on weekends and during school holidays. OST activities provide safe learning opportunities and facilitate healthy behaviors such as engaging in physical activity during leisure time; providing opportunities for work and learning experiences; and supporting positive youth engagement in safe and supervised recreational activities. There are multiple positive impacts for youth engagement in OSI opportunities, including:

  • reduce the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors among young people during leisure time,
  • reduce the time young people are involved in unsupervised activities,
  • increase young people’s access to enrichment activities and experiences that can support their academic and professional development and reduce learning loss,
  • improve knowledge and skills by engaging in experiential learning programs (eg, internships) or skills development (eg, social-emotional learning programs), and
  • Increase access to positive networks of peers and adults, which promotes positive relationships between individuals and the community. Youth participation in OSI opportunities provides protective factors and addresses some common risk factors associated with youth violence, teen substance abuse, and other problematic adolescent behaviors at the individual, peer, and peer levels. and the community.

Gbadamossi: Who are the other stakeholders and partners in this project, and what role do they play?

Alexandra Kondyli: This project is a collaboration between the University of Kansas, Kansas City Public Library, KC digital player, ThrYve, Key Innovations and many community organizations, such as schools, mobility providers and local governments. The university brings a technical and research perspective on mobility and application development. Kansas City Public Library and ThrYve connect with young people and ensure their voices are heard. KC Digital Drive and Keystone Innovations are supporting pilot implementation and identifying a sustainable path for our proposed solutions.

Gbadamossi: Which groups has the team engaged with to identify and develop the specific proposed solutions and policies that the project champions?

Kondyli: We engaged with several mobility providers in the Kansas City area to understand their willingness to identify and implement acceptable mobility solutions and business models for youth and their parents, as well as their support in the access and sharing of all data. Fortunately, several mobility providers accepted the challenge and were very enthusiastic about working with us, such as zTrip (a micro-transit company), Kansas City Area Transportation Authority – KCATA (transit agency in the Kansas City metropolitan area), RideKC Bike (regional service of shared bikes and electric bikes), Unified Government Transit (transit agency in Kansas City, Kan.), and Kansas City Streetcar (transit service).

We have also teamed up with several schools in the area who will help recruit young people for our pilot implementation. We work closely with two of these schools (Wyandotte High School in Kansas and Central High School in Missouri), to develop a semester-long program where students will help the research team develop and test the mobile app.

Finally, we are collaborating with several local agencies and nonprofits to align with ongoing regional efforts.

Project Board KU CIVIC.png

Gbadamossi: Your project has a huge component of accessibility and equity; how does the team define accessibility and equity?

Kiley and Ellis: In this work, the team defines accessibility and equity as the ability for all adolescents to experience and attend quality OST experiences that are inclusive, engaging, and help students grow professionally and personally.

We build on the work of our civic partners, who have identified, through community research, six learning equity gaps – awareness, access, attendance, engagement, journey and opportunity – that create barriers participation in the TSO. Improving awareness and access to OST opportunities will provide students with a wide range of educational and workforce development benefits, including increased opportunities for young people to explore professional identities and better preparation for the labor market.

Gbadamossi: How will equity and accessibility be measured as the project moves forward?

Lisa Koch: This project uses youth travel surveys to understand accessibility issues related to particular travel modes, which could be caused by location, time of day, cost, age or understanding of service. This information will guide our implementation strategy. We will then use three treatment groups to understand how knowledge of transportation availability, travel planning assistance, and reduced travel costs affect mobility and travel mode choice. This information can then be used to identify structural barriers to travel for this age group and will identify solutions to these structural barriers.

Gbadamossi: Does your project’s modeling approach and framework have the potential to be transferred or scaled up for use in other US communities and with other demographic groups?

Koch: This project will develop quantitative and computational approaches to assess and maximize transportation system capabilities, including transit and mobility-sharing services, to connect local youth to OST opportunities. We will develop a unifying data-driven framework and related tools to determine the effects of different transport modes, routes and availability, as well as other key factors including perception of safety, travel times, energy consumption and economic costs, on the accessibility of the various opportunities distributed in space. The framework will further identify optimal ways to motivate students to participate in OST activities and resources. Our approaches will inaugurate necessary and innovative scientific methodologies to discover and improve the relationship between mobility and societal equity. This framework, including the development of mobility equity measures, scenario analysis and mobility optimization, is a methodology that can be adapted and applied to different population subgroups, mobility types and geographical areas.