How Arts Programs Benefit At-Risk Youth

In an age where so many people see the discrepancies that inner-city youth face every day, it can feel overwhelming to fix such complex problems. In communities of lower socioeconomic status, crime rates are incredibly high. Children and teens growing up in these environments often have incarcerated family members and a lack of support from guardians or authorities. They are surrounded by substance abuse, addiction, and violence, which causes developmental trauma. And after facing such difficult circumstances, their limited educational and extracurricular opportunities don’t leave constructive outlets for these emotions. 

How can a single program provide support, education, and an outlet for personal expression when the problem feels insurmountable? Is there a solution that can limit exposure to crime and addiction? More and more studies are finding that arts education programs are successful in each of these areas. The ongoing research has identified five primary ways arts programs like those provided through Michael’s Daughter Foundation benefit under-resourced students. 

Increases Academic Achievement 

Studies show that students from low socioeconomic areas face more academic challenges. When a child’s life includes problems much more extensive than getting to class on time, it’s only natural for focus to shift. However, arts programs are proven to stimulate the areas of the brain that benefit success in school. A study by Americans for the Arts confirmed that students are up to four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, participate in a math/science fair, win an award for school attendance, or be elected to class office. What’s more, students from low-income communities are five times less likely to drop out of school. 

Creates Employment Opportunities 

Because 72% of employers list creativity as one of the top qualities they seek in potential employees, participation in the arts can develop the skills needed to stand out in the professional world. Problem solving and creativity are cultivated through artistic expression. Unfortunately, many low-income schools don’t have the resources to build robust arts programs, so extracurricular and after-school programs can make all the difference. Throughout the most formative years of adolescence, participation in the arts can develop the skills necessary to thrive in the workforce later in life. 

Builds Social Skills 

Working on art projects collaboratively can help kids develop the social skills necessary to work well with others. Whether this is a collective art gallery or community theater, it allows students to celebrate each other’s creative expression and develop teamwork. Especially in performance arts, students can learn empathy, compassion, and emotional intelligence by expressing stories with their bodies. As they develop these skills, social skills are cultivated to interact well in other contexts like jobs, classes, and at home. Especially in violence-ridden neighborhoods, the trauma that students internalize can stunt social skills and emotional regulation. Arts programs can provide outlets for students to develop these skills in safe spaces with positive reinforcement. 

Improves Literacy

Literacy is also low in communities with less-resourced schools and under-supported students. As a result, students are often behind in their reading comprehension and grades lower than they are expected to be developmentally. Participation in art, performance, and music can improve language and communication skills so students can express themselves more articulately. This can eventually help them write better college essays, perform better in job interviews, and communicate better with superiors. 

Boosts Confidence 

Trouble in the home often leads to self-esteem issues and mental health problems. For example, when a child has an incarcerated parent, observes addiction, or experiences neglect, it can lead to much higher depression, anxiety, or violence rates. However, when these same students participate in creative expression, they learn to externalize negative emotions and develop positive coping skills. As they express themselves, they also can experience external affirmation from teachers, instructors, and peers. This affirmation boosts confidence and cultivates a positive self-image. Higher confidence naturally leads to a more optimistic view of the world and higher goals for themselves, which minimizes self-limiting beliefs and creates capable and high achieving adults. 

If you are looking for positive extracurricular programs across the US, Michael’s Daughter Foundation was created to invest in students and youth through theater and art. The founder, Cierra Payton, knows firsthand the pain of having an incarcerated father and relatives struggling with addiction. Art and acting became an outlet for her to express herself and find community, and she wants to provide the same opportunities for students today. The programs offered through the foundation combine her experience as a teaching artist, actor, and writer to create robust opportunities at feasible prices. Michael’s Daughter Foundation aims to give every student the gift of storytelling so they can discover their voice and utilize self-expression that will benefit them and grow their futures.

Kayla Andersen

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