<<Tweens, students ages 10 to 13, like arts programs that involve singing, beat-making, design and dance, a new study says. Credit: LA’s BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program
November 24th, 2013 |A new study takes a fresh approach to developing quality after-school arts programs for urban youth: Ask the potential participants what they want – and don’t want.
To start with, the study found, don’t use the word “arts,” which the young survey participants associate with boring arts-and-crafts projects for little kids. In fact, the word “art” to many of these students from low-income families means drawing or painting, which aren’t of much interest to most of them. But an opportunity to learn beat-making, dancing, singing or design – taught by professional artists – seems a lot cooler.
The 133-page report, Something to Say: Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs From Urban Youth and Other Experts, focused on tweens between 10 and 13 who were interested in the arts, but not yet passionate about them. The study suggests that engaging youth in arts programs at that point in their lives, when they are developing their own identities, and not yet fully under the tyranny of peer pressure, would be most effective. In fact, the researchers said, the younger tweens – 5th and 6th graders – were the most open to new arts experiences.
With the recent focus on math and literacy, school districts have cut or eliminated arts programs in many public schools, leaving after-school programs as one of the few options left to engage students in the arts, particularly in low-income communities. But urban students don’t attend after-school programs if they don’t offer what they want, potentially eliminating any chance to develop their artistic selves, the study said.
“Engagement in the arts not only allows young people to express themselves and unleash the power of their imagination, but can also build skills and confidence; foster teamwork and persistence; and inspire the formation of social bonds and empathy for others and a capacity for delight that can last a lifetime,” wrote Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation, which funded the study, in a foreword to the report.
Denise Montgomery, Peter Rogouin and Neromanie Persaud from the Next Level Strategic Marketing Group interviewed 75 experts involved in arts education and 200 young people in cities across the country, including San Francisco and Oakland. They also held eight parent focus groups, where parents for the most part told them they didn’t think it was that important for their children to have an education in the arts.
The report offers eight case studies of after-school arts programs that work, including three San Francisco programs – Youth Speaks, Playworks and 826 Valencia. The online report offers videos that feature program participants and staff.
Youth Speaks, whose motto is “Because the next generation can speak for itself,” engages students in poetry in its in-school and after-school programs.
“We don’t exist just to teach poetry to kids,” said James Kass, executive director of Youth Speaks, on the video. “It’s that intersection of arts education, development of civic engagement and artistic presentation that is the magic of Youth Speaks.”
Kass added that he doesn’t call the educators, who are professional writers, “teachers.”
“We call them poet mentors,” he said. Youth Speaks is “about a city space in which young people can speak their mind and be taken seriously and engage with their peers who are doing the same.”
Kass touches on some of the criteria the students in the study have identified as important in an arts program. The program, according to the researchers, needs to:
- Hire well-qualified professionals with real-world experience to teach.
- Provide hands-on learning in inspiring spaces. Within the first half-hour each day, the researchers suggest, the students should be physically involved in the art form.
- Showcase the students’ work, typically with a culminating event such as the poetry slams held by Youth Speaks. Tweens in the study likened what they wanted to the excitement of sports competitions or TV shows, such as “American Idol,” where contestants are eliminated until one winner is left standing.
- Include snacks and meals, T-shirts and certificates. This creates a sense of belonging.
- Involve students from more than one school, giving the tweens a chance to make new friends.
Susan Frey covers expanded learning time. Contact her.