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Mayor’s initiative keeps kids learning all summer

Teens participating Chicago Summer Learning STEAM Studio program create t-shirt designs using Adobe Illustrator Chicago Cultural Center Tuesday.  Makalynn

Teens participating in the Chicago Summer of Learning STEAM Studio program create t-shirt designs using Adobe Illustrator at the Chicago Cultural Center Tuesday. Makalynn Sankey, in the tie-dye t-shirt, edits her design while older sister Daviana, standing, gives her input. | Meenakshi Dalal~Sun Times

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Updated: August 29, 2013 7:29PM

Makalynn Sankey, 14, tweaked her T-shirt design in Adobe Illustrator Tuesday, while her older sister, Daviana, 16, sat one table over drawing jewelry that will later come to life from a 3-D printer.

“I knew about Photoshop, but I thought that it was just professional people who did that. I didn’t know you could do it on your own,” said Makalynn Sankey, excitedly.

Sankey and her sister are participating in the first year of an initiative out of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office aiming to keep children learning during the summer — the Chicago Summer of Learning programs.

Organizers said the goal is to help the youth develop skills in a way that fit their specific interests.

There are 217 programs in the Chicago Summer of Learning. They vary in cost — some are fully funded by sponsoring organizations, while others charge a fee.

As kids complete activities, they earn digital badges from the city. The first few activities are online but once complete, Chicago youth can sign up to participate in more specialized programs, which are tailored for a certain age group and subject.

The Sankey sisters and about 14 other teens found the STEAM Studio program, held in the Chicago Cultural Center. A number of organizations collaborated to create a space for the week of July 22 — July 27 where youth learn how to design jewelry or clothes, how to photograph the designs and promote them.

“Each step is a challenge. As each kid goes through the steps, we can see where they’re struggling with a concept and then help,” said Mike Hawkins of the Digital Youth Network, which helped to organize the STEAM Studio program. The teens are learning programs like Adobe Illustrator and Google SketchUp, a 3-D modeling software.

A few city blocks away at The Anti-Cruelty Society, a younger set of kids, ages 10-13, are participating in a two-week long camp where they interact with animals and focus on environmental tasks.

“The goal is to get these children to develop a sense of empathy and understanding for animals and to inspire others to do the same,” said Elliott Serrano, who leads the summer program at the shelter.

Kate Mahoney, 10, signed up with her two friends. “It’s fun ‘cause we’re helping animals and stuff,” the fifth grader said.

Angela Murillo, 11, said: “We cleaned up a beach so that the animals don’t choke.”

On August 16, there will be a summer showcase displaying all work from the Chicago Summer of Learning program. The time and place of the showcase have not yet been announced.

Participants can find projects that match their interests by visiting the Chicago Summer of Learning site [] and clicking on the ‘Explore’ tab.

For those who can’t physically go to program sites, there are links to activities the kids can complete at home and send to an organization to earn their badges.

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