After-school programs throughout Northeast Ohio offer a good opportunity for kids to learn new things, bond with friends, expand their skills, and build a community. We spoke with several area experts who talked about the benefits of these programs and how they are getting kids back together.
Michael Lund Ziegler, director of education at The Fine Arts Association in Willoughby, says one of the biggest benefits of after-school programs is the opportunity for young people to pursue something they love, and perhaps to reach a depth and a proficiency.
Kids can also benefit by learning skills they can carry with them in their careers, such as teamwork and empathy, by participating in dance or theater, for example.
Ed Gallagher, director of education at Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood, says an arts education program helps kids become more well-rounded.
“Some kids may go on to professional careers in the arts, but they also may go on to be appreciators of the arts, attendees of the arts, and pass it on to their kids down the road,” he says. “So, it makes them well-rounded individuals, and that helps to define someone’s culture in all different interest areas.”
Across all the different art forms, the arts can teach kids the skills they need to succeed.
“Equally important, and first and foremost, we are teaching artistic skills, so we want our students in the youngest classes to develop the best set of skills to create a foundation for them to move forward and advance in that art form, so they are going to learn the proper terminology, the proper technique, and the best way to interact with each of those art forms,” he says.
“The thing about after-school programs is it gives kids that opportunity to grow creatively and to grow individually, and to support and encourage literacy development. That’s what our focus is — it’s on creative literacy,” says Amy Rosenbluth, executive director of Lake Erie Ink: A Writing Space for Youth.
After-school programs also provide kids with enrichment experiences outside the traditional school day, where they can enjoy being a kid and have fun.
“We are giving them openness and opportunities to take that where they want to go with it. So we see a lot of value in helping them get new, healthy ways of working through things,” according to Jeannie Fleming-Gifford, executive director, Fairmount Center for the Arts.
“The other thing with the social piece, especially over the last year, we did a great job with online learning, and so many people pivoted in innovative ways, but nothing compares to the energy and connection that happens when people are in the same class, when kids can join together in person. The physical proximity is really important,” she says.
She says after-school programs are helping kids return to “normalcy,” by teaching them how to work through things, and equipping them with life skills.
“We help them explore different ways to create, and in an after-school program, they have the time and the space to do that. The other thing is it builds community for kids,” Rosenbluth says. “So clearly now, when we are coming back out of this isolating year, that’s going to be very critical for kids to feel like they have a community to belong to, where they can be comfortable, learn new things, share and have fun.”
A Place to Grow
Regardless of the art form, the arts help kids grow. They also connect and support academics and what kids are learning in the classroom, Fleming-Gifford says.
Teaching kids’ non-artistic skills is also important.
“So, the kids are learning how to communicate, whether it be non-verbal communication that you have to learn when working together as a group,” Gallagher says. “Some of them are learning motor skills that are learned through dance. In theater, they are learning to be improvisational speakers and reactors, and great listeners. Then everything we do ends up being a social experience for the kids. Sometimes, it’s before and after class, sometimes it’s during class, and sometimes it’s the whole, complete experience, but all those non-artistic skills translate into daily living skills that help someone become who they are as they go through their lives.”
“The arts are important because they define who we are as a culture,” Gallagher says. “ It shows how we express emotion. It can show how we decorate our walls and our spaces. It can also show how we build our buildings, how we tell jokes, and how we tell stories. So, I think the arts are important because it influences all of that.”
Arts not only impact kids, and build their social circles, but they also carry over into their careers and other areas of their lives. From a community arts festival or a sculpture, or a summer performance series, to the high school marching band or the art gallery in town, the arts play a major role in our lives.
“It takes a certain level of dedication to accomplish anything, whether it’s in the arts or any other field, at a significant level,” says Lund Ziegler. “If you take learning a musical instrument, for example, to really do it well, you must have incredible focus, great dedication, you’ve got to be able to organize your time, and you’ve got to commit to it. Those kinds of skills carry over into any field.”