Town Square Has Plenty To Offer Young People

ROCKVILLE | Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Who would have thought that a free school day meant a full Town Square?

Well, it is confirmed: Our young people have voted with their feet. On a recent MCPS teacher workday, the plaza was simply full of children. There were babies being strolled, preschoolers sitting on the stone ledges surrounding the green space, and elementary-schoolers eating at the chess⁄checkers tables, ""acting" on the stage and playing tag with a bench as home base. A grandparent and high-schooler ambled down Maryland Avenue, talking intently.

Mary Muha, Colleen Gannon, Alana Pechhola and Simone Osseiran, all Rockville middle school students, were picking up their drinks in Starbucks. They come to Town Square about once a week, sometimes after school and sometimes on weekends.

They like it ""much better than the old strip mall that was here before. There are more stores and restaurants, especially ones teens go to," they said.

They mentioned Five Guys, Giffords, Fractured Prune, Roebecks, Ten Thousand Villages (for the jewelry), Cloud 9 Clothing and Cottage Monet (for the Vera Bradley bags) as special favorites. They said cheery goodbyes as they walked off to the movie theater.

Kids truly abound at the new library. Dan Beavin, director of the Rockville Library, noted that between 1,000 and 1,400 people come through each day, and he estimates that about half of them are children. About half of the book circulation is children's material.

""After 3 o"clock, our two quiet study rooms and four tutor rooms are always full," he said. ""They are first-come, first-serve, with a two-hour daily limit. We have far more high-schoolers here in the afternoon than we ever did at the old library. Surprisingly, noise is not an issue here because it dissipates in the high ceiling and expansive spaces.

""This building, the county's first urban library, was meant to be the downtown anchor, and it really has become a destination." In the children's section, there are six computers reserved exclusively for children under 13. Librarians Cathy Gowen and Heather Wright reported that students use them mostly for homework, research and games, as opposed to chatting or e-mail. Internet use is filtered, and, since one has to log in with a library card that has a birth date attached to it, older folks have to use computers in another section, creating a secure, kid-friendly space.

The library has programs that include story times for babies through age 6, a book discussion club for third- through fifth-graders, and a science series for children in grades four through six where young readers can talk with science authors. ""The Race for Space" is the topic on Saturday at 2 p.m.

VisArts is another great place for kids. The current exhibition is ""Zapp! Comic Books and the Arts." The original serial movies of ""Terry and the Pirates," ""Batman" and ""The Shadow" are showing in the main gallery.

The Children's Discovery Gallery has a touch screen table that is programmed to allow students to create collages. Presently, the reading corner contains comic books and graphic novels. All activities in the Discovery Gallery change to go along with the exhibitions, as do the kids" activities in Lola's Imagination Stations, which are scattered throughout the facility.

Education Director Holly Haliniewski and Outreach Coordinator Rachel Minkoff have put together an extensive program of classes for all ages. Teens can learn digital illustration and music production, middle-schoolers can learn to turn wood on a lathe, elementary-schoolers learn about culture through art and everyone can work with glass.

There are family art workshops, holiday workshops "" Haliniewski says the gingerbread house one fills up fast "" and ""Boogie Babies," two hours of art and music for 2- to 4-year-olds. There are even birthday party and customized group program options.

Town Square is clearly the place for kids of all ages. See you in the square.

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