Travel club helps teens discover their city

There is a new travel agency here that books subway rides instead of airline reservations and specializes in local rather than long-distance travel. And it caters exclusively to young teen-agers.

Detours, an organization sponsored by the Boston Children's Museum and aided by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is geared for "kids who are going places." It teaches 11- to 16-year-olds in the Hub how to use the city's mass transtt system and acquaints them with appealing places to visit.

"Just as adults use a travel agency to plan trips outside their normal range of activity, kids need the same kind of help in the more narrow geographical area of their own town," explains Jim Zein, project director. Through transit trips and printed materials, Detours equips young people to do some exploring on their own.

New members participate in an initial transit training workshop that helps them figure out the "mysteries of the MBTA" [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority], says Susan Porter, program manager. Special trips once a month to places such as the Boston police stables, an ocean liner, a harpsichord shop, the locker room of the Boston Red Sox, and backstage at a major theater give the members more travel practice. As they become familiar with subway stations, learn who to ask for directions, how to read transit maps and change trains, they lose fears about getting lost ang become more skilled at using public transportation .

These training sessions are what set the Detours program apart from the usual "guided tour" organizations for young teens. Detours works to equip pre-high schoolers for independent trip taking by "putting the skills in their own hands so they can fashion their own use of resources," says Mr. Zein.

Detours is currently the only program of its kind, but it can serve as a model for other urban areas. "Any kids' advisory organization in another city could use Detours as a construct," says Mr. Zein. "It has great potential for replicability."

For a $5 membership fee, recruits receive $5 worth of subway tokens, special maps, city travel guides, and "The Real Good Times," a newspaper published by Detours. A renovated 1950s us serves as roving headquarters, traveling to community centers, neighborhoods, and shopping centers.

The activity guides, with vivid graphics and humorous tidbits, introduce members to places and areas of interest in Boston. Two of the guides, title Jaws I and Jaws II, describe local food specialties and unusual restaurants and highlights the places where teens can get their favorite foods: pizza, ice cream , and sandwiches. Other pamphlets spotlight music in Boston, roller skating along the Charles River, and visiting a historic graveyard.

The printed materials are designed as thematic guides so kids can connect their own interests with specific places," says program manager Porter.

One feature that has been particularly successfull is the "passport" -- a stimulation of the real thing but containing coupons worth $30 in discounts to museums, theaters, and other attraction. "The passport provides good incentive, " says Ms. Porter "It is one of the most attractive aspects of the program because it represents real money to them."

The concept for Detours, which began in April this year, grew out the Open City Project -- research program conducted in $:971 by the Boston Children's Museum and funded by the US Office of Environmental Education. Not surprisingly , the program revealed young adolescents had little cohesive knowledge about parts of the city beyond their own neighborhoods, or how to get to them. On the basis of the findings Boston Children's Museum designed the Detours program to help teens discover educational, recreational, and cultural resources open to them as they learn how to find their way around the city.

Detours hopes to attract 5,000 members by the end of this year. Including some sponsor memberships, 320 teens have joined the organization since so far and a recent TV spot brought a favorable response.

Although parents allow their teens various degrees of freedom, as a whole they "seem to think it's a great idea," says Mr. Zein. "They see it as a good broker of activities their children can discover and do on their own. They feel they can be confident about the training process of travel and comfortable about the places they [their teens] go." Young people who join in groups, Ms. Porter notes, seem to travel the most.

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