Friday, July 7, 2017

Adding an “A”: What an Arts Education Means for Our Youth

by Lizzy Wimberly, Education Intern

In a global environment that continually grows more complex, it’s important now more than ever that young people are educated and equipped with the proper skills to take on life’s challenges. In the U.S., we often think of these “proper skills” as limited to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM. All of these subjects are important; in the coming years, demand for scientists, software developers, engineers, and mathematicians are all expected to continue to rise beyond that of non-STEM occupations (U.S. Department of Education).

But in a STEM curriculum, a very important component of learning is missing--the letter “A” for Art. For young learners, art is a part of growth and development that is of paramount importance. Just like STEM, art provides students with the skills necessary for lasting academic, personal, and professional success.

According to Americans for the Arts, students engaged in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. If they take four years of art in high school, they’re also more likely to score higher on the SAT than students who take only one-half year or less. Furthermore, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association, children who engaged in simple, art-based interventions displayed better divergent thinking and creativity after the intervention than children who did not have an art-based intervention. The study evidences the measurable boosts of creativity achieved by engaging in artistic learning. Great news, especially considering that 72 percent of business leaders say that creativity is the number one skill they seek when hiring. 

ARCK’s founder and executive director, Sara Demeter, has even witnessed creativity blossom first-hand. During a weeklong art-healing workshop, Sara worked with Syrian refugee children. At the start of the program, the children expressed their sadness on paper with images like tanks, fires, and guns. But as the week progressed and they got to do activities like building their own cities and learning about physics through simple experiments, they were able to portray beautiful stories like olive groves and peaceful homes. They finished the workshop with hope, conveying their new dreams of being scientists, doctors, teachers, architects, and more. One little girl even said she’d like to open up an art nonprofit of her own.

For these reasons and many others, STEAM education is on the rise. Originally coined and championed by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the STEAM movement moves to incorporate Art and Design into the current national agenda of STEM education. The STEM to STEAM movement has its origins in a 2012 club fair at RISD, where leaders of the new club pledged to foster creative, innovative thinking at the intersection of science and art.
While interning at ARCK, I had the opportunity to observe STEAM in action. Understanding that art has the capacity to foster creativity, confidence, and critical thinking, the ARCK curriculum aims to engage students in STEM with art as the mechanism. In doing this, like those over at RISD, we aim to combine the logical mind with the imaginative mind, ultimately making for individuals who are truly creative thinkers and inventors.

For example, one of the projects in our Social Justice module examines oil spills and pollution through abstract painting. We begin this lesson by explaining oil spills, the harm they cause to the ocean, and giving examples like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Observing aerial shots of such spills, students understand the effects of pollution on the environment, as well as visualize the connection and the opportunity to portray similar scenes through painting. With this, students paint their own depiction of oil spills, understanding the catastrophe through their very own artistic rendition.

Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Artist: Karl Goodnough (2010)

Gardner Pilot Academy students, May 2017

Not only that, students in ARCK classrooms also learn to utilize their art as calls to action. As an intern in a classroom of 5th and 6th graders at Gardner Pilot Academy, I got to see students excited to bring attention to the Boston area’s gas leak problem. With the help of Mothers Out Front, a Massachusetts nonprofit that raises awareness about environmental issues, we learned that many of Boston’s aging gas pipes are corroding and leaking, and that everyday people are the ones who pay for it. Not to mention, gas leaks are dangerous for both the environment and for human beings. After hearing of this, students were nothing less than animated--extremely excited to start the project. And what was the project? Well, creating posters to protest gas leaks, of course!

Lisha, 6th grade student at Gardner Pilot Academy, April 2017

At the end of every day at ARCK, though the main lesson of each project varies, one primary idea is consistent. Each of our lessons involve the use of both logic and imagination. From environmental science to geometry, painting to printmaking, ARCK’s goal is to utilize a STEAM curriculum to cultivate as many as possible creative, confident, and critically-thinking young people.

Friday, May 19, 2017

From School Days to Evenings: Engaging Parents in their Children’s Art Learning

by Marlena I., ARCK's Development & Marketing Assistant

ARCK’s Financial Literacy Through Art workshop, piloted on May 16th, marked the first of hopefully many workshops we will offer to the parents of our students this upcoming year who are English language learners. This component of our programming aims to engage parents in their children’s school lives and to extend the therapeutic benefits of art into their lives as well as their kids’.

ARCK has partnered with the Adult Education Program at Gardner Pilot Academy (GPA) in Allston, one of the Boston public schools in which we offer our core arts integration program for K-8 students. The Adult Education Program offers evening English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes along with childcare, free of charge to participants. To reach our students' parents in this wonderful program as well as other adult ESOL learners, we are planning a series of Literacy Through Art workshops. Since the Adult Education Program’s ESOL curriculum is theme-based, geared toward teaching students English skills and areas of knowledge relevant to their daily lives, each of ARCK’s Literacy Through Art workshops will align with some of these themes, including personal financial literacy.

  Photo May 16, 7 23 55 PM.jpg

This past Tuesday evening, around 18 GPA parents from various levels of ESOL classes participated in a hands-on, arts-integrated lesson on using checks. We were fortunate enough to have the help of Rick and Spencer, representatives from Commerce Bank, who taught students how to properly write a check, record checks in a check register, and balance a checkbook.  

Photo May 16, 7 14 02 PM.jpg 

At the beginning, ARCK teaching artist Will asked, “Who here has a bank account?” Most students raised their hands.

“Who has written a check before?” Most students had not.

The second half of the workshop was an art activity; students designed their own checkbooks using an array of materials including tissue paper, feathers, colored pencils, and stencils.

Photo May 16, 8 01 10 PM.jpg           Photo May 16, 7 45 35 PM.jpg

Students were given the opportunity to think about how they might incorporate their own identities into their artwork. A single father of four, originally from El Salvador, shared images of tecomates (gourds used for carrying drinking water) that he said could serve as a point of connection between immigrants from similar backgrounds.

The class also gave parents the opportunity to speak to us, ARCK staff, and ask questions about the program.

Overall, they were excited to exercise their creativity, de-stress, and learn about personal finance -- all through art!

Photo May 16, 8 08 13 PM.jpg         Photo May 16, 7 54 50 PM.jpg

We thank Commerce Bank for lending their expertise to the financial literacy lesson and for their generous sponsorship. We thank Michelle Duval from GPA’s Adult Education Program for helping coordinate our partnership.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Project Idea: Light-Up T-Shirt for Bike Advocacy

 Are you a parent looking for a fun and educational project to do with your kids? Or are you an educator hoping to combine STEM and art into a creative STEAM activity? Look no further -- we’ve prepared a lesson demo on How to Make a Light-Up T-Shirt for Bike Advocacy.

In the video below, ARCK’s executive director Sara Demeter and curriculum developer Lisa Pastore walk through the project step-by-step. 

ARCK's video was included in Education Closet's Arts Integration and STEAM Conference in February.

With this lesson and ARCK's other STEAM projects, students can learn how to live more sustainably and develop advocacy skills. This fits in with our environmental justice-themed curriculum this year and our second curriculum module, Civic Engagement. By biking, we can improve our health and contribute to better, cleaner air. 

Lesson Objectives:
  1. Students will develop skills needed to be an active member of their community and to be an agent of change.
  2. Through research, students will analyze bike statistics to look at inequalities in biking culture.
  3. Students will enhance critical thinking and problem solving skills that they identify and devise a solution supporting their theory and problem-solving skills.
  4. Students will learn to incorporate a simple circuit of e-textile components using conductive thread, LEDs, batteries and battery holders into their design which is all using STEAM components.
  5. Students will practice drawing and painting techniques as they create their t-shirts.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Join us to Stand Up For Art!

In these times of budget cuts to arts and culture programming on both the federal and state levels, ARCK is taking a stand. We are committed to using art as a vehicle to engage children in learning, because we see firsthand in the classrooms that art empowers and heals students.

At our ArtWeek Boston event, #StandUpForArt, we will be amplifying the voices of those who, like us, believe the arts and arts education are worth fighting for.

Check out our Facebook event for more details, and we hope to see you at #StandUpForArt!

Why do the arts matter to you? Let us know in the comments!


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Arts education in Boston: Building bridges between Boston youth and the community

I remember the first time I attended a public hearing in Boston City Hall back in 2014. It was led by Chair of the Committee on Arts & Culture, Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu, now council president. Also participating were Councilors Matt O’Malley, Ayanna Pressley, and Tito Jackson.  I was inspired by the words of those who spoke during the public hearing, and I began to jot down my thoughts on the status of arts and culture in our city, and the importance of collective social impact, bridging boundaries, and breaking down silos.

In the hearing, I heard representatives of arts and culture organizations, individuals, and advocates echoing each other on many topics: funding, public art projects, and the like. But I didn’t hear enough about youth art. I heard questions like, how do we funnel funding toward arts and culture in Boston? “And I thought,” what about the youth? Are young people not the future innovators and creative thinkers of our nation? I believe that bridging youth and the community through art is the most important force to innovate and put our city and its people on the map. It’s building global citizens that will lead our country confidently and creatively.

In my mind, other questions were swirling, too: How can art create a collective social impact involving the entire community? In art, do you need to use your right brain alone or your left brain too? How does a child best learn basic math? Do great mathematicians become the best artists, or do artists become great mathematicians? How do we find alignment and connection? How do we think outside the box?
Julie Burros, appointed Chief of Arts and Culture in September 2014, believes the arts are as important as the sciences to Boston’s culture of innovation, and has said, “removing barriers is a huge part of my vision.” But it would be sad to focus on great art and culture projects in Boston without a clear and strong pledge to include our youth.

I want to transform our city into a place of cultural inclusion that enriches our schools and youth first. My vision is that the city would establish an art and culture “incubator,” working to build a strong foundation to unlock the full creative potential in our young people -- to empower our youth to become artists, scientists, engineers, doctors, and architects. We need the collaboration of great minds to fulfill this ambitious, yet crucial vision.

Funding for public art is imperative, and it’s wonderful that we have artists eager to enrich our city. Nevertheless, I am left puzzled in the face of so many Boston Public School budget cuts, leaving art programs so hard to find in so many schools. While encouraging artists to create public art, why not also ask them to visit schools to work with our students? We need to build a strong foundation for learning during the K-12 years. Through arts integration, ideally with exposure to people who are making a life in the arts, our youth will have an opportunity to unlock their creative potential.

We must all come together to make this happen! As Boston Public School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Chang puts it, we need to create a “culture of we.”

ARCK is helping to create a culture of we. On June 14th, ARCK unveiled the collaborative mural project, “I AM, WE ARE,” across from Fenway Park-- providing proof that the Boston community has the ability to empower our youth. The  mural was created by ARCK’s students at Gardner Pilot Academy, a Boston Public School, in collaboration with ARCK’s teachers and staff and professional artist Mark Cooper, whose participation was made possible by a generous grant from Bain Capital and also Michael Jabbawy from Goodwin Proctor LLP who helped us negotiate our contract with the artist. The 48-foot wide, 12 foot tall mural showcases students’ exploration of their identities and multicultural communities to an audience of millions of passersby. This mural will catch the eye of not only the Boston community and Red Sox fans, but of tourists -- and all will be reminded of art’s ability to bring people together

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Arts and Culture Chief Julie Burros attended the mural unveiling ceremony, and the Red Sox were event sponsors, providing refreshments to attendees, including our student-artists and family members and teachers.

After two years of dreaming and hard work, the “I Am, We Are” mural project became a life-changing opportunity for our Boston Public School students, who were given the power to make their mark physically, visually, and creatively in their own local community of Boston. This mural creation is an example of how art education can develop children's self-esteem, celebrate their community, and guide them on their journey of exploring who they are. They were encouraged to reflect on the facets of their identities and to listen to each other’s perspectives. These exercises in intercultural understanding are reflected in ARCK’s overall curriculum, which emphasizes three key areas of global citizenship: leadership, civic engagement, and social justice.

There is truly power in our youth, and it is important that we give every individual an outlet for expression. This mural project is the beginning of something that could spread nationwide.

I am so grateful to have been part of this unifying artistic and cultural accomplishment. This mural project has validated the vision I had when I first decided to start ARCK back in 2012. I was a mother concerned about the creative development of her children, and I wanted to make a difference. However, in order to make a difference, we must call on the whole community. We're all in this together. I sincerely believe that ART TAKES A VILLAGE.

Sara Mraish Demeter
Founder and Executive Director of ARCK

GPA middle schoolers students working on their canvases to be collaged on aluminum panels

GPA middle schoolers students working on their canvases to be collaged on aluminum panels

Mayor Matin J. Walsh and Sara Demeter celebrating with GPA middle schoolers students in the mural unveiling ceremony 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pajamas of my Dreams! Celebrating MLK day at the Blackstone Innovation School

On Friday, January 16, the author and illustrator of Pajamas of my Dreams paid a visit to the Blackstone School's first-grade classrooms to share their book and help students with a collage project. Laurie Collins, the author, led the students through a fun and engaging meeting with a singalong, a rap, and a read-aloud of her book. Margie Florini, the illustrator, showed her original collages and talked to the kids about how she made them. All of our students were deeply engaged throughout their presentation, singing and laughing along, calling out their observations from the book, and sharing their own dreams.

After the presentation, students continued to work on their own collages, which they had made backgrounds for the week before. They decorated paper pajamas with pictures of their "dreams" - from basketballs and stethoscopes to superheroes and fairies. Our visitors and teachers walked among the busy students, sharing cut-out paper and other decorations and talking to the kids about their collages. At the end of each class, a few brave volunteers came to the front of the class to share their "Artist Statements" in front of an audience of their peers, teachers, and special guests.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Healing Syrian Refugee Children Through Art

During the summers of 2012, 2013, and 2014, Sara Mraish Demeter, ARCK’s Founder and Executive Director traveled to the Zarqa region of Jordan where she conducted a week-long workshop to bring arts education to a group of 40 Syrian refugee children. In addition, Sara worked with Palestinian refugees in Jordan. The morning art workshop integrated reading and writing, storytelling, and painting. The intent was that in turn, expression through art would help refugee children begin the process of healing and rebuilding their lives.

“Each day of the workshop, I learned something new and inspiring,” says Sara. Here are some of her reflections written during the 2014 program, providing an inside glimpse of what the workshop looked and felt like.

Visit our Healing Art for Refugee Children Crowdrise Campaign to DONATE TODAY

Learn about healing the Syrian refugee children through art and storytelling, with these words from Founder and Executive Director or ARCK, Sara Demeter.

Check out these photographs taken during the project.

Day 1: August 4th, 2014

I drove from Amman to Zarqa, arriving at the center at 9 a.m. As we approached, the Syrian refugee and Jordanian children were waiting outside for us with longing smiles and eyes glistening with hope.They welcomed us with kisses and hugs, and graciously helped us retrieve materials from the car.

The day’s program began with introductions to get to know the students we would be working with over the next week. We went around in a circle and stated our intentions, hopes, and objectives for the program. I was amazed by their readiness and their eagerness to jump right into the swing of things.  

After introductions, we gave each student a name badge and a plastic folder, a notebook, a pencil, sharpener, and eraser. They were overwhelmed with joy. They appreciated the simple items that the everyday student would take for granted.

The first day we just wanted to get familiar with the students. We started with some simple warm-up drawing exercises, getting them comfortable with the new supplies and setting.

Day 2: August 5th, 2014

The next day each student restated their names and shared with us what they wrote in the notebook that they took home. We led the children in a “dancing movement,” an exercise we do in our open circle to create connections and establish a group comfort level.

Then, students participated in a “closed eyes drawing activity.” Each was asked to draw an object with their eyes closed, then draw the same object with their eyes open. In reflection, students noted that when drawing with their eyes closed, you have the freedom to be more imaginative. They didn’t feel a pressure to be perfect, and they were not afraid to make mistakes.

Through this exercise, students gained an understanding of others around them who suffered from disabilities. In fact, one of the students was visually impaired, and his results were astounding. Although without sight, his eyes-closed drawing was significantly better than his drawing with his eyes open. Clearly “sight” is not restricted to what we see physically. One of the students spoke about the experience: “We were able to feel what people who can’t see feel, and let our imagination go beyond our written rules and limitations.”

Day 3: August 6th, 2014

Today students worked on a very important project called the “City of Hope.” They were encouraged to create a blueprint of an ideal city to live in. Students made sure to include houses, buildings, airports, supermarkets, mosques, and all the necessities for a fully functioning city. After each creating their own dream cities we decided as a group on the name: ”Hope City,“ مدينة الأمل.” As a group, we determined appropriate laws and rules to be enforced in “Hope City.”

I watched as everyone worked excitedly with ideas streaming out of their imaginative minds. You could see the happiness in their faces, and how these activities improved their attitudes and livened their spirits.

Day 4:  August 7th, 2014

On this day, we showed the children a movie about Icarus and Daedalus, the Greek myth.  
The movie was entertaining, but also led to thoughtful discussion about topics like self-control. One student reflected: “This story teaches us to be creative and be inventors, but no matter how much power we have, we need to be humble and draw boundaries of dangerous ideas.”

Day 5: Friday (Weekend no class) August 8th, 2014

Through art, the children were able to convey very personal themes that they may have found otherwise difficult to find in words. All week, they have worked on creating a storybook, called “Storytelling Through Art.” This therapeutic activity improved students’ self-development and personal expression. Check out the storybook here.

Day 6: August 9th, 2014

The final day! Today was a celebration where we danced and ate traditional Kabseh rice and chicken with yogurt. We expressed our sincere farewells to the new friends we met. It was incredible to see how these workshops healed the children's’ souls. I will cherish the memory of watching these children heal and reconnect with their dreams through the beauty of art.

And this story continues:

July, 2016: The values I learned while working with the students in Zarqa stay with me to this day across the world in my city, Boston, Massachusetts. ARCK is working to develop of our future leaders in Boston and around the world. For example, our  “I AM, WE ARE” project, a student-collaborated mural that now is displayed as public art near Fenway Park, is similar in many ways to our Zarqa work. The self-discovery the Syrian refugee children achieved through art echoes the exploration and discovery I witnessed with the Gardner Pilot Academy students who made the mural in Boston.

No child should be deprived of the amazing potential of art; it truly has the ability to transform a soul emotionally, cognitively, and socially.

Special Thanks: I would like to express my thanks to my sister Manal Mraish for being a co-leader on the refugee  project, and Nadia Bushnaq the founder of the Center for Awareness for allowing us to hold our workshops there.  I also want to thank the staff: Khaula and Lena, and mentors Abdelrahman, Mohammed, Mohammed Haymmour, Mohammed Aljbour, Mona, and Hamzeh.