Rêve Academy gives north Minneapolis students digital skills - KMSP-TV

Rêve Academy gives north Minneapolis students digital skills

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With online sales predicted to grow, there's a large demand for people to program websites and a Twin Cities non-profit is working to solve the worker shortage by training students in north Minneapolis to use the tech that will give them a competitive edge.

In a world of pop-up stores, the mission is generally pretty simple: generate sales and a buzz around a brand. The concept was put into action by a group of teenagers who designed, launched and e-marketed their own line of clothing. Along the way, they learned more than basic business skills.

Thanks to the trust the Rêve Academy in Minneapolis, a non-profit group, put into the teens' vision, the kids were also taught a set of valuable digital skills that companies are currently searching for in employees.

"So, I sit in my role here at Target, and I look at our constant search for talent, our constant search for digital talent, and I would tell you the demand is there," Phil McKoy, vice president of Target.com and Mobile, told FOX 9 News.

It's not just large companies that need the skill set either. Students are currently creating online destinations for 13 businesses along Lowry Avenue in north Minneapolis, places like North End Hardware -- a store that didn't have any web presence until now.

"I am at the age where I have no idea what is going on, so these guys are really teaching me a lot," Darryl Weivoda told FOX 9.

Most of the students at Rêve Academy grew up on the city's north side. Nei'yana Penn is one of them, and the 18-year-old worked on the clothing line as an intern.

"It takes a lot of stress away from having to think about everyday life," Penn said. "Living in the neighborhood that I live in, all we hear is people arguing all the time, drive-bys."

Penn told FOX 9 News a person was killed in the alley behind her home, but the hallways of Rêve Academy are different. The husband-and-wife team that started the school three years ago -- both business consultants professionally -- say they know life isn't always easy there. That's why they focus on potential.

Brad Von Bank and Kristin Pardue tell FOX 9 News teaching students to be web-savvy at a young age will help them fill valuable business roles in today's tech-oriented economy.

The couple's volunteer work with area kids helped them identify the digital divide as a big hurdle in the community because many families can't afford smart phones, tablets or high-speed Internet.

Sylvia McKinny, a junior at Wayzata High School who lives in north Minneapolis, said her experience launching the "Fit'd" line taught her a lot, and she walked away with confidence.

"They said that is going to set me apart from everyone because people go to college to learn coding, and I am learning it now," she said.

The hands-on approach help students in the program bridge the gadget gap with real-world applications, and many say it's helped them believe in their professional future.

Rêve Academy runs summer sessions and after-school enrichment classes in about 15 Minneapolis schools. The program is funded by local foundations.

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