Rockin' 'The House'

City's center for middle schoolers gains popularity after improving its profile

It is just after 5 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, and the house at 298 Escuela Ave. is filling up with middle school students. A handful of boys in black hoodies crowd into the garage to play pool, while others gather to watch a foosball match between another teen and a staff member.

A Graham sixth grader named DeVon Williams, who had been giving a play-by-play of the contest, answers his cell phone:

"The teen center is tight, dude," he says to his friend on the other end of the line. "It's at Escuela."

Though the place is pretty tight, with its pool table, flat-screen TV and video game consoles, he has one fact wrong: It is no longer called the "Teen Center." It's now "The House," in a name change that is just one part of the city's re-branding efforts to make the facility more appealing to its sixth- through eighth-grade patrons.

After the city approved some additional funding for teen recreation earlier this year, coordinators saw an opportunity to improve the Teen Center, which was only open a few hours on the weekends and only drawing a handful of students. They toured other teen centers along the Peninsula, taking note of what worked, and bringing those ideas back to Mountain View.

With the additional funding they reorganized the Escuela space, purchased some new furniture and amenities and added a huge activities calendar. The overhead lights are covered with colored tissue, and upbeat music fills the space.

One of the biggest changes is that The House is now open six days week, most days until 8 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday nights until 9:30 p.m.

"It's been a lot busier since we went to six days a week," said Lexi Hyatt, the staff member caught up in the foosball game.

According to Kristine Pardini, the city's recreation coordinator, organizers are still working on building a homework center. Hopefully, Pardini said, they will have five computers up and running by the beginning of next month. Though they can't provide one-on-one tutoring, she said, they will be encouraging students to utilize the city library's new free online tutoring program, Brainfuse.

And of course, she added, "Our staff are here to help them."

As turnout over the past several weeks has shown, their efforts have not been in vain.

On The House's opening day on Sept. 28, Pardini said, there were 14 kids. The next day, there were 14 again, but half of them were new. On Wednesday, 16 teens showed up. Thursday, 19. And on Friday, there were 27 students clustered around the TV, eating popcorn and watching a movie together.

"I was in shock, going, 'I need to add more staff!'" Pardini said.

Since then, she said, they've been drawing more than 20 students nearly every day. Each student must fill out a form and have it signed by a parent to become a "member" of The House.

Pardini said this system has smoothed some of the wrinkles. At the old Teen Center, if a kid forgot to bring their school ID, they couldn't get in.

"A group of seven students would come up," Pardini said. "If one of them didn't have their ID card, (none) would come in."

The House has about 45 members, but Pardini hopes membership will grow to more than 100 in the coming months. It doesn't seem too ambitious a goal, given the enthusiasm shown by students already hanging out there several days a week.

Amanda Ledingham, a sixth grader at Crittenden, said she's been coming to The House every day except Friday to play pool. She heard about it in an announcement at school. She doesn't mind going alone.

"I see my friends all day" at school, she said.

Williams, keeping an eye glued to the foosball game, said he's been going to The House on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.

"I would come every day," he said, but his mom can't pick him up.


Like this comment
Posted by Bruno
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:54 pm

This is awesome. Exactly what our kids need. Kudos!

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