- Students reaching the upper-elementary and middle grades often become less interested in after-school programs, but a new study shows that offering high-quality arts programs that adhere to key principles — such as having a dedicated space for activities, working toward culminating events, and giving youth leadership roles in the program — can increase participation.
- The report focuses on the Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s Youth Arts Initiative, funded by the Wallace Foundation, which began as a pilot with students in high-poverty communities in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Taught by teaching artists, the arts “clubs” focused on digital, performing and visual arts.
- A total of almost 1,300 “tweens” participated in the program, with the numbers increasing over time between spring 2014 and fall 2016, and the skill-development classes almost reaching capacity, according the study, conducted by Research for Action and McClanahan Associates. “Some participants developed strong, motivating interests in their chosen art forms, and these ‘sparks’ sustained their engagement despite the rigor of the classes themselves,” the authors write.
While the Every Student Succeeds Act gives schools more leeway to increase arts programming as part of a more “well-rounded” education, many schools still struggle to find sustainable sources of funding for a broad array of arts programs, both during and after school.
According to the 2016 National Assessment of Educational Progress in the Arts, 13% percent of students attend schools that provide music classes less than once a week or not at all, and 21% of students attend schools that offer visual arts classes less than once a week or not at all.
Partnering with community-based organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America or arts organizations, is one way to increase access for students who would not otherwise have opportunities to get involved in after-school arts programs. The report, however, provides additional lessons for fostering interest in the arts among an age group that can be hard to impress — whether those programs are held at school or in the community. These include making the arts “visible and valued” by having “near-professional equipment,” setting high expectations such as attendance requirements, and communicating regularly with parents.
Ongoing challenges, however, include securing funding to replace grants. To convince policymakers to provide funding for such programs, providers may have to “focus on building up quality, even at the expense of capacity” for this particular age group.