This is a brief overview of the key things you will need to do to when starting a Teen Science Café.
1. Join the Teen Science Café Network. You can register as a Member on our website by click the “Join Us!” button. You will become part of a welcoming and supportive community that will help you each step of the way. There is no cost of being a Member other than your time sharing and learning with colleagues.
2. Consult some key “getting started” documents. The most important foundation document to read before starting a program is the Guide to Getting Started with a Teen Cafe. We also have a similar guide in checklist form at http://cafenm.org/start.html.
Eventually you will want to browse the Resources section of the TSCN website. You will also find accounts of the experience of other Teen Cafés within the website blog. All the tools you will need are in our Getting Started Toolkit.
3. Identify a venue (or multiple venues) in your area. Many kinds of venues can be suitable, but not schools. Cafés typically take place for about an hour and a half in evenings during the school week.
4. Will you be conducting Cafés at multiple sites? The standard Teen Café model promotes conducting Cafés at multiple local sites within your area. A managing organization coordinates the Café presentation series at the different sites, but may have partners at each site that run the program.
While it is quite acceptable to conduct Cafés at only one location within your area, there can be an economy of scale gained if you offer the same programming at multiple sites. The majority of the time invested in the program is in finding and preparing the presenters and the hands-on learning activity associated with the topic. For each site it is useful to identify a partner organization and venue, as well as another motivated adult leader who will be responsible for the logistics of running the Café sessions.
5. Connect with the community broadly. Identify community leaders who have the attention of teens, parents, teachers, librarians, and other leaders. Connect with businesses, universities, and organizations with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to encourage their experts to participate. Community leaders such as the Rotary, Civitan, and Kiwanis Clubs have connections to spread the word about your program. Make appointments with the science teachers, science department chairs and principals at high schools you want to draw teen participants from. Inform them about your forthcoming program. You will almost always find them highly supportive.
6. Connect with teens who can be energized to take ownership of the program. Ask a teacher, leader of a teen center, or leader of another STEM-focused program to help you organize a meeting with students that might be interested in helping to lead the program. Bring pizza with you if you can. Pitch the program to the teens and the importance of their leadership to make it teen centered. You will usually find the teens to be quite interested in your story, if they feel they can have genuine input into the program development. Collect names, email addresses, and phone numbers of interested youth so you can invite them to an organizational meeting.
7. Start to identify likely STEM presenters. Start asking around about presenters known for giving good talks. Presenters could come from a wide variety of organizations, just so they are science/technology professionals. Do some background checks on likely presenters. Do they have a good science story to tell? Do they have an engaging personality? Are they likely to respond to your training? Book your presenters months ahead if possible. Their schedules fill up quickly!