Raising creativity for kids after school

February 03, 2000

The Trend is growing toward afterschool programs for middle-school children, to guide kids through the "dangerous hours" before parents get home from work during the "dangerous years" of adolescence.

This year, the U.S. Department of Education will spend more than $450 million of after school programs of all kinds, more than double what was spent in 1999. Of 470 after-school programs in U.S. communities, two-thirds of them include art and music.

One local artist, who has seen government programs come and go, depending on the political on the political mood of the day, says that after-school arts programs are the new "in" thing for foundations and educators.

The issue goes beyond safety and academic achievement to give children -- the day-dreamers and misfits along with the ebullient and obviously gifted -- a chance to become competent in the more esoteric parts of life.

Given that, we asked a range of prople in Central Maryland this question.

"How can after-school art programs help to save middle-school children from getting into the kind of trouble that destroys lives? How do we put more programs in place?"

Positive hook

Diana L. Morris, director, Open Society Institute-Baltimore, 201 N. Charles St., has awarded a variety of local arts groups $700,000 for after school programs.

There's a real value to after school not being the same thing that goes on during the day. There's an opportunity for some academic achievement, to be exposed to new things but also to develop competence in new fields. Our programs bring kids in direct contact with an artist who helps children perform, create and exhibit their art. Research shows that kids who develop competence in an area they love are more resilient. Even if they do get into some kind of trouble, there's a [positive] hook to pull them back in.

Creating, not destroying

Ruth Aukerman, painter, printmaker and art teacher in the Carroll County public school system.

The main premise is philosophical -- while children are creating they're not destroying. Creativity achieves self-gratification and purpose, children's psyches are so different when they experience it. I've seen it happen with many at-risk kids. But finding the right medium for the child -- clay, painting, something structural -- isn't so easy. Most after-school programs are run by volunteers and parents. We donate our time, but there's a limit to what professional educators can do.

Safe expression

Dr. Margaret Weiss, assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

As the mother of three sons, I think art gives kids a chance to find and express thoughts that tend to get ignored, to examine parts of their personality they don't get a chance to do during the school day. There's such a hurry to grow up and not many places for kids to hang out safely. I think school is the place for these programs. The kids are already there, and it would help parents.

Getting there

K. Christine O'Neill, head of the art department, Glen Burnie High School.

We need more buses to take kids home after doing activities after school. A lot of kids can't participate if they don't have transportation. They live too far away to walk. Arts are a way for some kids to shine who don't shine in anything else. I've seen art take kids who do horribly in other areas and give them careers. I see one kid on drop-out row every semester turn around like that.

Saving futures

Michael T. Lamason, co-founder, Black Cherry Puppets, Baltimore. The group plans to build a puppet theater in the 1100 block of Hollins St.

Art saved my little neck when I was that age. I could have gotten in a lot more trouble than I did. I had basically lost interest in formal school by my early teens, but I grew up in a little town [Carlisle, Pa.] that had a very strong school art program. But I never saw any puppets until I came to Baltimore. Back then, the city was sponsoring puppet theaters in recreation centers. We're hoping to bring it back with private funding. We help kids make puppets to perform for other kids. It's a noncompetitive environment that builds teamwork. You need to work together to put on a show.

Elevating the arts

Janet S. Owens, Anne Arundel County executive.

I support any after-school arts activity -- it's an opportunity for self-expression and freedom -- and view them equal in importance to sports. Society doesn't seem to view it that way, and it's regrettable. Alumni give to sports scholarships but not to art and ballet and theater. You have to have teachers who value art to run these programs. We're seeing a decrease in people who want to be teachers of any kind. That's the challenge every elected official faces.

Interviews were conducted by Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez.

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