Smells Like Teen Connectivity: students discuss their experiences at the Teen Center

Among other activities, the Teen Center offers foosball and 1990s-based video game, called Earth Shaker. Photo by Sunjin Chang.

Among other activities, the Teen Center offers foosball and 1990s-based video game, called Earth Shaker. Photo by Sunjin Chang.

Senior Varun Muthukumaran is a busy guy.

A member of the MVHS football team for four years, he has attended daily, four-hour long practices during the summer and fall. From lunges to deadlifts to conditioning, he performs various strenuous activities aimed at increasing strength and speed. While Muthukumaran, a dedicated football player, appreciates football season and the accompanying experience, he admits that most of his time is taken up by this sport. Add SAT practice and college apps to the mix, and Muthukumaran’s already busy schedule becomes even more chaotic.

That is where the Teen Center, considered by Muthukumaran to be the hidden gem of Cupertino, falls into place. Located near the Quinlan Community Center and below the Sports Center, the Cupertino Teen Center is a self-described modular space that serves to enrich teens’ high school experience by fostering positive relationships and promoting relaxation.

And for Muthukumaran, who enjoys spending time with friends and meeting new people, the Teen Center has done exactly that.

“[The Teen Center] is not just a healthy and positive environment where you can hang out with your friends,” Muthukumaran said. “It’s a place where you can just have fun and you’re not stuck inside your house, all bored.”

Boredom, in fact, is one of the main reasons why Muthukumaran visited the Teen Center in the first place. With SAT prep and football practice occupying most of his free time during the summer of freshman year, Muthukumaran longed to enjoy his vacation, to sit back and relish in the moment. Taking advice from his friends at MVHS, who informed him that the Teen Center was the perfect spot for just that, Muthukumaran made his way toward the building, wanting to discover if it was truly worth his time.

He says it was.

“I stayed [at the Teen Center]until closing,” Muthukumaran said. “I played Xbox, the PS4 and the Wii. And sometimes, I would just sit on the couch and eat food or watch a movie on Netflix.”

In contrast to Muthukumaran is sophomore Ashley Yeh, who knew that the Teen Center advocated itself as a place of enjoyment and relief but was hesitant as to whether or not that was true.

As a resident of Cupertino, she had heard about the Teen Center only a few times, either through advertisements or school announcements. Given its lack of coverage and prominence in her daily life, Yeh was thus unwilling to attend the Teen Center as an afterschool program. However, recognizing that her parents were full-time employees with lives of their own, she decided to give the Teen Center a chance.

“It looked kinda sketchy when I went there,” Yeh said. “There wasn’t a lot of people when I went there, so I was like ‘Oh this is a place where no one really goes to.’”

Muthukumaran admits feeling the same way when he first visited the Teen Center. He was conflicted as to whether he would like the facilities, whether he would actually have fun. This all changed, of course, when he saw the multitude of games and activities offered at the Teen Center. While socializing with others, a friendship sprouted between him and staff member Andrew Wooten. Like Muthukumaran, Wooten had also attended MVHS as part of the class of 2010 and had played on the football team.

“[Wooten] and I [could]relate because he [also]played football at MVHS,” Muthukumaran said. “We would always talk about that, and we would always play 2K together where he would absolutely demolish me every single time. We’ve always just had a really good bond between each other.”

Wooten, now an Assistant Recreation Coordinator at the Teen Center, regarded his bond with Muthukumaran, and other teens, in the same manner, viewing them each as unique individuals with immense potential to grow and learn everyday.

In fact, this is why he began working at the Teen Center in the first place — because he truly enjoyed working with young adults and hearing about what they had to say. So, relocating from the front office of the Quinlan Community Center to the inside of the Cupertino Preschool Center, Wooten finally settled at the Teen Center. As part of his job, he now takes the lead on group projects and coordinates events related to teen interest.

“We want to know what teens want,” Wooten said. “So we’re looking always to revamp our facility and programming. Right now, we’re thinking about making a makerspace with [three-dimensional] printers, a teen incubator for startup ideas and a high-tech space.”

As Wooten mentioned, the Teen Center is continually adding and modifying facilities to best meet the needs and wants of Bay Area teens. For this reason, it hosts a multitude of services, free of cost for Cupertino residents, to enjoy. Some of these include three large screen television screens; video game consoles from Playstation, Wii and Xbox; and nine computers for both educational and recreational purposes. The Teen Center, being an interchangeable space, is also open to hosting club meetings, barbecues and parties upon request.

In short, whatever a teenager needs — whether that be help with homework, emotional health or college apps — the Teen Center is bound to have.

Despite this, not many students visit the Teen Center. Out of a survey of 359 MVHS students, 72 percent said that they had heard of the Teen Center, while only 29 percent said that they have been there. Senior Lauren Tang, whose little knowledge about the Teen Center stems from middle school announcements and advertisements, has never visited the locale due to time constraints.

“I normally have water polo or swimming practice depending on the day,” Tang said. “And right after practice, I have work and stuff. I just don’t have that much time to go anywhere.”

Supervisor Daniel Mestizo, who works for the City’s Recreation department, recognizes this. Many high school students have tight schedules with very little leisure time. As such, Mestizo, a true believer of the Teen Center’s purpose to give teens what they want, emphasizes that if it is necessary, he is willing to allocate times specifically for high school students.

“If [high schoolers]want their own time from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., we would be able to change that,” Mestizo said. “But I can’t change that until there [is]more high schooler feedback.”

Muthukumaran, who never felt that there was anything missing at the Teen Center, does not have any feedback or complaints. For him, the overwhelming care displayed by staff members is more than enough to meet his needs.

“[For anyone that is hesitant], definitely go,” Muthukumaran said. “A lot of people are concerned about it, but once you get there, you’ll realize how fun it is and you’ll have a lot of fun — because of what they have and the kindness and positivity that’s always there.”


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