Authored by: Ricky Vigil, Afterschool Program Coordinator at Cyprus High School
Each year, Salt Lake County Youth Services facilitates the “I Make Difference” art contest for youth ages 10-21. The theme changes every year, but it always coincides with Earth Day. It is a chance for our young artists to think creatively about different ways to sustain our planet. This year, 54 entries were submitted around the theme of Sustainable Gardening. Voting is now open to the public at https://a.pgtb.me/9vTCH8 and the top three submissions will be awarded some awesome prizes, including Home Depot gift cards and iPods.
For many young artists, though, the prizes aren’t the motivating factor. Actually, the opportunity to have their art exposed is what motivated them. At Cyprus High School, students in our Afterschool Art Club worked diligently on their submissions over the past month. I stopped each week to see how the pieces were coming, and I saw a lot of my high-school self in these kids. They have a compulsion to make art—it’s more than a hobby, more than an elective class for them. At our quarterly art nights, the kids stayed on a Friday night, just so they had more time to use the tools provided to them, the chance to bounce ideas off their peers, and the opportunity to receive guidance from their teachers.
Again, I think back to myself as a high school art student. We weren’t fortunate enough to have an afterschool art club, but I spent many of my lunch periods in the art room, pushing myself beyond what was taught in class with the help of my teachers and gaining inspiration from my peers. It was a place I felt comfortable, and one of the few places in the school that I felt I belonged. It also turns out that I was accidentally teaching myself a bunch of useful skills . According the Afterschool Alliance’s August 2005 newsletter, art is a great way to implement “stealth learning,” in which students are passively taught skills such as Geometry, Algebra and Chemistry. It can also help a student’s ability to focus, and it had been proven that students that are engaged in an art program often improve in their test scores.
The biggest advantage of these programs, is the outlet for expression. Social and personal themes can be explored, and its a healthy way to express emotions. Art can also gives students the opportunity to think outside of the box, or to adapt their work to a particular theme, as seen in our “I Make A Difference” contest. The quality of the submissions speak for themselves—we work with some very talented kids in our Afterschool programs—but the connections, community and positive relationships forged with both students’ peers and their teachers, often serve as the template for their forms of expression.