By Derek Wilson
Even as communities are separated by fears of the Covid pandemic, and by anger over racial and social injustices, arts still unite us.
As students return to their classrooms — mostly virtual — Youth in Arts is working with local schools to make sure they have the opportunity for a well-rounded education, one that includes expression and creativity.
“We’re putting together distance-learning plans and hybrid plans for arts in schools,” said Kristen Jacobson, executive director of San Rafael-based Youth in Arts.
Youth in Arts supports arts programs in nearly 80 schools in Bay Area school districts, for traditional and special needs students at all grade levels.
“We’re trying to support educators,” Jacobson said. “We offer creative ideas to integrate arts-based learning to curriculum in schools… Art doesn’t have to be seperate, it can be embedded in learning. It helps students learn in different ways.”
Jacobson says a goal of art in schools is to cultivate creativity, confidence and compassion to create well-rounded students.
According to Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke, “Youth in Arts is an amazing community partner and provides an incredibly valuable source of equitable arts education opportunities for our students, staff and community. Here are a few examples of their work with our schools.
“Equity and inclusion are a centerpiece of YIA’s work and programming. YIA brings culturally relevant pedagogy though direct education in its work in the classroom and through teacher training and professional development.
“YIA was an instrumental partner in the Advancing Teaching and Learning through Arts and Science (ATLAS) STEAM Institute that included art residencies for 14 special day classroom teachers. The teachers were trained to weave a creative thread into their daily instruction practices. In addition, YIA was the ArtsEd lead partner contributing to the development of a countywide Arts Education Plan that will touch the lives of each and every student in Marin County.”
The nonprofit is currently displaying students’ artwork as Youth in Arts celebrates its 50th anniversary. The “Outside the Lines” exhibit showcases art from special needs students at Oak Hill School and Terra Linda High School from the spring semester. Paintings are on display in the windows of the Youth in Arts gallery at 917 C Street through October 1.
The art might appear abstract, but that adjective is not demeaning to the artists. Abstract artists might paint outside the lines, but the art still requires skill and a strength to break rules in order to convey an image, feeling, or message.
“Outside the Lines” is part of the Arts Unite Us initiative, established in 2008 “to address the isolation that we saw many of our students with special needs and their families experiencing in school,” according to information from Youth in Arts.
The Covid pandemic has the potential to further isolate students, and there is some increased concern for their mental well-being and their performance in school.
According to Jacobson, “We really listened to students, teachers and administrators after we were all scrambling in the Spring. For a service like ours to work with districts, we have to pull down all the tech barriers that feel burdensome… What the means for students with special needs, is we focus on the tools we can put in their hands. We’re thinking about what the program content is and what the students have in front of them.”
Jacobson continued,”It’s hard for typically-developing classrooms and students during the pandemic. It’s so hard to be present for them. The difficulty is only compounded for families of students with special needs. The pandemic has shown major disparities in how districts serve these students. We’re talking with educators about how to get students back in the classroom in the safest way. In the meantime, we’re working closely with educators to create a case-by-case situation to support families.”
Burke added: “Youth in Arts’ dedication to equity and social justice is demonstrated in their deep partnership with Laurel Dell Elementary School, a Title 1 school serving students from San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. The organization’s impact is directly correlated with increased family engagement, improved learning for English language learners, and documented increased confidence in students. Furthermore, YIA is a core arts provider for our students with special needs across the county through its unrelenting dedication to inclusive arts practices that bolster student voice and identity in students of all abilities. In these ways, Youth in Arts continues to be a leading voice for equity and inclusion in all aspects work and mission… In short, YIA is the kind of organization that we would want for all communities. We could not be more honored to have YIA as a partner in the education of our students in Marin County.”