Children today live in a different world than that of their grandparents. In some ways, it is a better world: a higher percentage of children in the U.S. are better fed, better educated and safe from once-menacing diseases than children of times past. On the other hand, youth now face new hazards, most unimaginable even a generation ago.
Consider the statistics
Every day 135,000 children carry a gun to school. Justifiably, America's concern about youth at risk is as prevalent as anxiety over jobs and the economy. With hopes of reversing this ominous trend, an increasing number of nation's 17,000 community organizations – such as Boys & Girls Clubs, libraries and parks and recreation sites – are using arts programs to:
The future of this country is being shaped by the development of our youth. With $7 billion spent annually to incarcerate young offenders and school dropouts costing taxpayers another $71 billion each year, U.S. communities should take a long, hard look at the dramatic and promising results gained by establishing arts programs for at-risk youth.
Real answers to tough problems
Youth arts programs are powerful crime prevention tools. They offer safe, engaging and constructive environments for young people who lack adult supervision during nonschool hours, a time when they are most vulnerable to community violence and gang recruitment. An increasing number of communities are realizing that art programs for at-risk youth offer an effective and more affordable alternative to detention and police-centered crime prevention:
The Arts Apprenticeship Training Program at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh, located in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, was established to redirect the lives of youth who may be a step away from violent life on the streets. Participants work with professional artists in the ceramics studio, music hall and photo lab. Counseling and college outreach services are also provided.
Results: Eighty percent of participants go on to college, compared with only 20 percent of the community's nonparticipating youth.
STARS, a multifaceted arts program for at-risk youth in Ft. Myers, Florida, offers a variety of classes, including modern dance, African Folk dance, poetry, creative writing and vocal arts, as well as tutorials in math, reading, and computers. The cost for each participant is only $850 per year – compared with as much as $28,000 per youth in the typical juvenile boot camp.
Results: In the program's three years, juvenile crime dropped 27 percent. For youth aged 11 and 12, the rate of repeat criminal behavior dropped 64 percent.
Why the arts?
Juvenile justice programs, including probation and detention, may be the only options for some youngsters who are a danger to their community. But the more than 4,000,000 at-risk children growing up in severely distressed neighborhoods surrounded by brutality, violence and despair deserve a chance to engage in positive, constructive activities that have been proven effective in deterring delinquent behavior. Training in the arts can provide such an opportunity.
Arts programs are not about coddling problem or delinquent youth. Learning to play a musical instrument, rehearsing a play or executing a mosaic mural requires long hours of practice, focus and perseverance – all components of self-discipline, a trait that many at-risk youth are desperately lacking.
Positive results: National proof youth arts programs work!
In a national study, three cities have rigorously evaluated their arts programs for at-risk youth and found that these programs decrease involvement in delinquent behavior, increase academic achievement and improve youth's attitudes about themselves and their future.
The Youtharts Development Project is a collaboration between the local arts agencies in Portland,Oreg., Atlanta and San Antonio; Americans for the Arts; National Endowment for the Arts; and U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. According to early findings of researchers provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, participants in these youth arts programs exhibit the following improvements:
The three programs studied in the Youtharts Development Project are:
In addition to a detailed evaluation of the efficacy of these programs, a Youtharts toolkit is being developed to guide other communities through the creation and evaluation of effective arts programs for youth.
Can the arts really deter our youth from gangs drugs and violence?
Prevention programs are most effective when youth attend and participate regularly. Arts programs are successful at attracting, engaging and retaining even the toughest kids. These youth – including gang members and previously incarcerated teens – join arts programs and return time and again. What draws them?
Research confirms that youth vandalize with graffiti and join gangs in search of recognition, achievement and self-expression. The arts provide a different way to address these needs. The following examples demonstrate the success of arts programs in engaging even the hardest to reach youth:
The Juvenile Gang Prevention Program in Dallas offers free classes at four recreation centers, where participants create plays and visual works of art based on personal experiences. Results:
Midnight Shakespeare participants – a San Francisco-based program for at-risk Hispanic youth – build sets and costumes, rehearse scenes and produce a public performance. Results:
Bridging the gap: How non-school based programs boost education
For at-risk youth, truancy and school failure are the two most significant predictors of delinquent behavior, according to U.S. Department of Justice research.
Arts programs reach at-risk youth and help them stay in school. This has a profound effect on both their development and our communities, considering that the unemployment rate of high school dropouts is 70 percent higher than that of high school graduates.
Arts Participation = Improved Academic Performance
A longitudinal study of 25,000 students reveals that involvement in the arts leads to greater success in school, regardless of socioeconomic status3. The study links significant cognitive and developmental benefits to involvement in the arts:
Arts Programs = Higher Rates of Graduation
At-risk youth participating in arts and prevention programs are staying in school and graduating. Participants in the following programs have higher rates of graduation and college attendance than comparable youth in their community: