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Boys & Girls Clubs to Launch After-School Arts Initiative for Tweens

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The Boys & Girls Clubs of America will develop and pilot after-school arts programs for urban "tweens" with support from a $5.35 million grant by the Wallace Foundation announced this month. If all goes well with the initiative over the next two-and-a-half years, Wallace will provide another $6.55 million for the project, called the Youth Arts Initiative.

(The Wallace Foundation also supports Education Week coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts education.)

The Boys & Girls Clubs has agreed to design its program for tweens (students in grades 5-8) around 10 principles of high-quality arts programming identified by the Wallace Foundation in a recent report, "Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs From Urban Youth and Other Experts."

These traits of effective programs include:

  • Instructors are professional, practicing artists, and are valued with compensation for their expertise and investment in their professional development.
  • Arts programs take place in dedicated, inspiring, welcoming spaces and affirm the value of art and artists.
  • Programs culminate in high-quality public events with real audiences.
  • Youth participants actively shape the programs and assume meaningful leadership roles.
  • Programs focus on hands-on skill-building using current equipment and technology.

You can read a Time and Learning blog post by Alyssa Morones about the report here.

The first Youth Arts Initiative programs will be developed at the Boys & Girls Club of Green Bay (Wis.), the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. Green Bay will focus on digital music production and Central Minnesota and Greater Milwaukee will focus on hip hop and step dance.

The Wallace Foundation has commissioned an independent evaluator to study the Youth Arts Initiative and share findings about best practices and outcomes. 

According to a 2009 Census Bureau survey, 38 to 44 percent of children from families with an annual income of $72,000 were enrolled in out-of-school lessons, clubs, and sports, versus 20 percent or less of children from families with an annual income of less than $18,000. 

One reason may be that children from higher-income families have better access to activities because their parents have more money to pay for music, dance, and art lessons, and sports leagues outside of school.

But urban low-income tweens and teens also opt out of after-school arts programming, according to the Wallace Foundation. There are a variety of reasons for this, according to the Wallace report, including misconceptions that "art" is limited to making the kind of paintings that hang in museums. Digital media, graphic novels, dance, and beat-making have more appeal for many of today's creative students.

"It's a challenge," said Edwin Link, a senior director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Tweens "can vote with their feet. They're now at that place when they feel a relative independence. If their friends go, they go."

It's important to expand access to arts programs for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and figure out a way to keep them coming back, Link told me. 

"Arts are a really vital and pivotal part of youth development," he said. "We know that young people who participate in the arts are more likely to succeed in everything from learning to life."

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