Red Comet facilitates a new center featuring virtual and augmented reality technology in White Swan, Washington

New center featuring virtual and augmented reality technology opens in White Swan

JASPER KENZO SUNDEEN Yakima Herald-Republic
Jul 8, 2023

page001_image003 People line up for a demonstration with Dr. Jay Srinivasan, right, during the grand opening of The Hub on Thursday, July 6, 2023, in White Swan, Wash. Evan Abell, Yakima Herald-Republic

WHITE SWAN — It could have been a scene out of a science fiction movie. Large monitors took up several walls as people tried out computers with three-dimensional, augmented reality displays during the opening of The Hub on Thursday.

La Oficina, a community organization that works with local businesses, opened The Hub, a new technology center near the Cougar Den and across the street from White Swan High School. The center will host credited classes for high-schoolers and technology classes for residents, and will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays to Fridays.

“It’s open to anybody without charge. They can come in, it’s free and, use the technology,” said La Oficina Chief Operating Officer Synthia Hernandez.

While The Hub is a free resource for community members, it is geared toward local youth. Students in rural areas can face challenges accessing resources and technology, Hernandez said, and she hoped The Hub would give students experience with some of those tools.

White Swan’s population is about 800 people, and its library has been closed since March 2022. It is on the Yakama Reservation.

Red Comet, an educational technology company, is bringing virtual and augmented reality devices to the center that will be integrated into courses for high school students. There will be almost a dozen learning stations with those devices at The Hub in White Swan, said Red Comet Managing Director Jay Srinivasan.

Its program is approved by the state, and Red Comet will offer courses online and in-person at the center. Students can take courses in addition to their high school course load or acquire their diploma as long as they are younger than 21.

“Kids can complete these classes. They can earn a diploma through Red Comet,” Srinivasan said.

The Hub’s primary goal, though, is to reengage students who have stopped attending high school or are having trouble with high school courses.

page001_image003 Esmagel Xiutecpatl does a blessing for the grand opening of The Hub on Thursday, July 6, 2023, in White Swan, Wash.

“If theyre still part of the school system, we tell them to talk to counselors,” Srinivasan said. “If they've dropped out, we want to work with them, reengage them and say, ‘Why don’t you go back to school?’”

Srinivasan and Anshu Somasundar, the company’s vice president of education technology, hope that bringing technology like virtual or augmented reality into the classroom would be more interactive and engaging for students.

Srinivasan added that Red Comet could offer basic courses in fields like health care, welding, robotics and dentistry using the augmented reality technology to students. He said those courses might engage students who aren’t as interested in more traditional school subjects.

page001_image003 ynthia Hernandez speaks at the grand opening of The Hub technology center Thursday, July 6, 2023, in White Swan, Wash. Evan Abell, Yakima Herald-Republic

Hernandez added that residents could gain experience and familiarity using new types of technology. Community members can use those resources locally, without traveling a long way.

“Whatever fits with their lifestyle. They have the ability to come to our center, use our resources,” Hernandez said.

Numerous government entities and community members contributed to The Hub. Hernandez said the U.S. Department of Agriculture contributed funding to the project. Before the ribbon cutting, she thanked the state Department of Commerce and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray for supporting La Oficina’s efforts.

Ramsey Companies has provided space in the Cougar Den building for the Hub.

“The Ramsey family has always used their entrepreneurial skill set to give back to the community, especially in education,” said Jaime Cuevas Jr., general counsel at Ramsey Companies.

Hernandez said La Oficina is hoping to open more centers in Yakima County, including one in Toppenish in the next few months. The organization’s CEO, Bertha Alicia Garza, said she has been working to open the center for years.

“It’s exciting. It’s a dream come true,” she said. “Who knows which kid from White Swan might find the cure to cancer?”

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen’s reporting for the Yakima Herald-Republic is possible with support from Report for America and community members through the Yakima Valley Community Fund. For information on republishing, email [email protected].

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