Thursday, February 25, 2010

Working with At Risk Youth

(above: sample student art project. This was inspired by collaboration artworks "Paintographs" by Abe Menor and Sean Boyles)
I am currently working with De Anza College's Euphrat Museum of Art in their Arts & Schools program. Much of their programming outreaches to Title One schools. The program strives to engage students in expressing their thoughts through visual arts. One of the goals is to invite the students to develop and value their unique individual visual and verbal vocabularies. The Euphrat also bring youth to the De Anza campus to encourage them to envision college as a goal. Abe Menor (a photographer/educator/activist) and Lydia Sanchez (visual artist/arts educator) are two artists with much experience working with at risk youth. Funded by a Donor Circle for the Arts Grant from The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, we are exploring effective ways to engage at risk youth. Our lesson planning draws upon the art in the current exhibit, In Between/ The Tension and Attraction of Difference.
I wrote the curriculum for the tie in programming for elementary and middle school students.

A few weeks ago, Abe Menor consulted with Lydia and me at Cafe Trieste (San Jose not North Beach) to discuss tips and lesson planning. Both Abe and Lydia had very insightful suggestions.
Here is an article about the resulting workshop and the larger program it was a part of:

Below: Artists Abe Menor and Lydia Sanchez

A few notes from our meeting with Abe on working with At Risk Youth:
  1. Engage students in an icebreaker activity first.
  2. Gain trust. If the project asks the students to share challenging experiences, instructor opens up and shares a personal experience first.
  3. Let them know from the start that no one is going to judge them on what they create.
  4. Use the word "we" so that they do not feel alone.
  5. Use a student "scribe" to write things on the board. If there is a disruptive student, give him/her this task. The student will gain attention (which he/she craves) but in a constructive way and will feel a bit of ownership of the presentation. This has worked for me lots of times, but, of course, not always.
  6. Students demonstrate the process of an activity instead of instructor explaining process alone, that way students are engaged in project from first moment of its introduction.
  7. If the activity engages writing, you can sometimes have them write on strips of paper (not directly on art just yet) tell the students not to worry about spelling. They can perfect the spelling later, just get the ideas down first.
  8. Utilize energizing activities for them to do when they start to drift off. Lydia suggested "walk arounds" which she uses in her class. Students clean up desks and place their project on the tables and all students get up from their chairs and walk around the room quietly looking at other students' art. I tried this out with an animation camp I taught and it worked wonderfully. Great suggestion for any group of kids or adults!
  9. If you have handouts, keep them short (This is my personal challenge). Limit the number of instructions per page. Consider placing steps of project onto different sheets of paper rather than putting everything on one page so as not to overwhelm.
We will be meeting with Abe again to learn more from his insight in a few weeks. Another component we may be looking at is how we integrate formal aspects of design (composition, color theory, visual rhythm, etc.) into the lessons. Abe also suggested having a big sheet of paper or board always there to write key phrases on. I have more notes I will add later to this posting.

I have just started to research a few resources on the web.
Here is one YouthArts Toolkit.
I also believe there should be volunteer training for programs in which college students work with at risk youth. Case Western Reserve has a program called Project Step-Up in which college students volunteer in schools K-12 and they are require to go through a training seminar before they enter the classroom.

And Community Works West is an organization to look to for working with youth and prisons. Abe Menor has much experience working with and designing programs for youth in the correctional programs of California prisons.