The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Let's Get StARTed

As a principal, I often asked my students what they liked most about our school.  As might be expected, many of them cited recess, but another consistently popular response was ART. They didn't care what kind of ART. All genres seemed to fit their liking.

I remember one young boy, “Jimmy”, a sixth grader, who was very small for his age. He was often bullied, yet he could give it back to the bigger kids with a very filthy mouth. He lived in a very impoverished, broken, and dysfunctional home. His grades were mostly failing. His lack of academic progress was often a topic of discussion in Intervention Assistance Team (IAT) meetings. My staff and I were very worried about his past, present, and future school progress.

Then one day while he and his classmates were standing in the hallway waiting to switch classrooms, I noticed he was carrying a pencil drawing of the Mona Lisa.  When I asked Jimmy where he got it, he replied. "I drew it." I doubted that, so I said, "You must mean you traced it from some art book." “No,” he said, “I looked at a picture from a book in our library, but I didn't trace anything. I drew it."

If you could have seen what I saw, you'd better be able to appreciate what I'd discovered. This pencil drawing was of very high quality, I couldn't believe my eyes.  I certainly thought Jimmy was pulling my leg. I just couldn’t understand how.

So, I asked his teacher to allow Jimmy to accompany me back to my office. Jimmy was quite familiar with my office. His inappropriate behavior ensured that he and I had frequent visits. When we reached my office, Jimmy took his customary seat and readied himself for another of my inquisitions.

After several minutes of questioning, I began to realize that he wasn't lying. I had grown used to knowing what signals to observe him when he did. But not this time. I realized was talking with a budding natural artist, and I was also looking at other works (yes, he had numerous other drawings in his bookbag such as the US Capitol, Mt. Rushmore, and more) that were way beyond what a  typical sixth grader could produce.

What I learned next was even more surprising. Jimmy, the boy we thought couldn't read on grade level, who had an IEP, began telling me facts about Leonardo DaVinci that I didn't even know. I asked, "How did you learn all this information?" Jimmy relied, "From books in our library!”

All this, right under our noses!

One reason for sharing this story is to confess how my staff and I missed this young boy's potential. Another is to show how that day changed how we worked with Jimmy. He happily went on to middle school to a great art teacher and began enjoying his first positive experiences in school.  Best of all, Jimmy and I never had the same kind of office inquisitions. He never got in serious trouble after the "discovery".  We began to share a relationship. He began to blossom when we stARTed talking ART.

The same can happen for you. You might have an artist (or many) right under your nose in your afterschool program, just like Jimmy. Just create the right conditions. Set aside some space and develop an art gallery area in your program. Connect with the school. Let kids draw. ART will become the showcase of your program.  Everyone will take delight in it, especially your little “Jimmys”.

Let's get stARTed finding arts experiences for all kids. Let’s commit to developing them, encouraging, nurturing, and changing lives through the ARTS. All it takes is paper and pencil. You may find the next Picasso. Let everyone know when you do!

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association

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