Okay, we admit that state agencies are a little acronym-crazy. But this one was so apt, we couldn’t resist it.
For years—backed by research—we’ve maintained that arts education has the potential to keep kids in school. The arts suggest new ways of viewing the world, new ways of thinking. Arts education teaches how to solve problems for which there is no right or wrong answer. The arts require focus. Discipline. Collaboration. And the arts reward that focus with unique, life-changing experiences. There’s really nothing like art to educate and engage the whole person—mind, body, spirit.
Unfortunately, the young minds most in need of the arts’ transformative power are being educated in the schools least likely to offer arts education. Generally speaking, the poorer the school, the fewer the arts offerings. And in some schools, the arts have been jettisoned completely, or are offered as rewards for doing well—instead of being employed as tools to unleash the creative energy in seemingly-unmotivated students.
Last year, we finally had a chance to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. Thanks to a one-time allocation of extra funds from the California State Assembly, we created a pilot program called JUMP StArts, designed to touch the lives of kids in danger of entering the dreaded “prison pipeline”—the one that sucks you in while you’re still a minor, and proves far more difficult to get out of than it was to get in. We sent arts programs directly into juvenile justice facilities, through a careful selection of terrific partners who were as excited about the possibilities as we were. Then we crossed our fingers and waited to hear what happened.
The interim reports from our grantees have started to come in. And this is what we’re hearing.
From the arts organizations:
"The students have surprised us by participating in ways we did not expect."
"You could see the change in these boys …they connected with one another, with the art instructors, and with the project - learning howto work together and be respectful of each others' ideas and talents -especially their own."
"It's hard to explain, but it helped me a lot. The words came out [of me] right before I am being released. All the things I wrote have a meaning in my life."
"(It) opens up whatever you have inside and makes you think about your life, and pushes you out of your hole."
"When I first heard about the program, I really wanted to do it, but then in the middle, I got scared. At the end, I'm really really glad I did it."
"This program helped me to express my thoughts in a positive way and not cursing a lot … and I want to say Thank You."
From a Gang Resistance, Intervention and Prevention (G.R.I.P.) Officer:
"Every child involved told me they learned what it meant to be committed to something, to complete a task once it was started and to take pride in your work and accomplishments. This is a life-lesson that will stay with these kids forever."
From classroom teachers:
"I have never seen, in ten years of working with institutional minors, such a change in a short period of time."
"I'm floored to see what some of these girls have inside of them. The creativity was 100% them, and it also taught them discipline. I thought it was great."
And perhaps the most touching—a letter from a participant, sent to one of the arts providers. It said, in part: "Thank you for everything. You helped me realize that I do really love my son."