Category Archives: Policy/Trends

Policy/Trends

Incorporating Behavioral Health Support for Students (and Staff)

“I’m working with a student whose drawings always depict someone getting shot or stabbed. What should I do?”

“The other day, a student told me that he’s thinking about coming out to his parents and he’s scared about how they’ll respond. I’m not sure what to tell him.”

“I think that one of my students may be homeless right now. Should I ask her about it?”

“One of the students in my class gets really angry and tearful any time that someone critiques his work. How can I help him and the other students handle critiques?”

ICA Teen Digital Photography students taking portrait photos of ICA Teen Slam Team, December 2014. Photo by Angela Mittiga.

In our work with youth, we encounter difficult issues on a weekly, if not daily (or hourly), basis. Working with students means dealing with situations that we may never have previously encountered. It means asking the question: “What should I do?” on a regular basis. Sometimes, the issues that students bring to us don’t seem to have an answer. In these situations, two heads are most always better than one. Consulting with colleagues can help guide your next steps and allow you to talk through an issue to gain a better understanding of it.

To help support students and staff, many schools have brought in behavioral health specialists, such as social workers, psychologists, and counselors. Depending on their areas of expertise, these specialists may be able to provide support in a number of areas, including:

  • Student behavioral health concerns (ex. depression and suicidal ideation, anxiety, trauma exposure, etc.)
  • Accessing local resources (ex. immigration services, family and child services, education advocates, etc.)
  • Crisis management (ex. addressing abuse/neglect concerns, providing support after trauma exposure, etc.)
  • Building social-emotional support systems (ex. helping develop structures and policies for helping staff address student’s behavioral health needs.)

How can after-school programs access support in addressing students’ behavioral health needs?

Last year, I began thinking about this question with the staff of Fast Forward, a teen program at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (ICA). They have developed an education team that is passionate and knowledgeable about what they do, as well as highly engaged with and supportive of their students. As their programming has expanded and students have developed deeper relationships with staff, more issues that students are facing have come to the surface. To address these complex issues, the ICA reached out for a behavioral-health perspective.

Now, once every few weeks, the ICA education staff and I sit down together to discuss current concerns that they are facing in their work with students. Our conversations range from the staff’s work with individual students to issues around systems and policies. To give an example, three issues that we discussed in a recent meeting include:

  • A number of students were exposed to a violent incident in the community. How might the students respond to this event? What are typical responses to trauma exposure? When should staff be concerned about a student’s response and what should they do if they are concerned?
  • A student told a staff member that she was having suicidal thoughts. What next steps should the staff member take? What could the staff member have said when the student brought this up to her? What are signs of depression and suicidal ideation that staff can look out for?
  • One student has missed class for two weeks in a row. What is the ICA’s official policy around absences? Is it better to contact the student directly or to contact the student’s parents?

For each issue, we discuss the concern, think about the context of the issue, and consider possible ways to address it. We develop concrete next-steps for each problem and make sure to check in during the following weeks to determine whether any further steps are needed.

Our goal, in the partnership, is to support the education staff in their immediate work, as well as to build the team’s capacity for supporting their students’ social-emotional needs in the future. We supplement the meetings with phone calls and emails to address crisis situations, occasional trainings to develop skills that the staff would like to strengthen, and collaboration to build policies around supporting students. This work allows the education staff to focus on the mission of the ICA’s programming while also ensuring that they are meeting the needs of their students.

Have your staff faced issues that they are unsure how to address? Would a behavioral-health perspective be helpful in addressing your participants’ needs? If so, consulting with a social worker, counselor, or psychologist might be something to explore.

Melissa Rocklen is a clinical social worker and an artist. As a social worker, she has focused on working with students, families, and staff within the Boston Public School system. She has conducted individual and group therapy, taught lessons on social-emotional skill building, assisted people in accessing local resources, provided trainings for teachers, and built protocols for addressing student needs.

A Participatory Understanding of Creativity

Attendees at the Sam Francis Foundation Creativity in Learning roundtable at the Isabella Stewart Gardner MuseumGuided by the  question of how can we foster creative capacity in our children?, the Sam Francis Foundation recently hosted a roundtable discussion at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to surface new perspectives on nurturing creativity in learning.

Although some familiar themes emerged in our conversation—the importance of material resources, access to mentorship, and the necessity of safe spaces in which to create—one aspect brought to light was especially compelling: participatory creativity.

The group wrestled with the ways in which popular notions of creativity (ie. the “lone genius”) create unintended barriers for participation for many young people. In response to this dilemma, Project Zero researcher and creativity scholar Edward Clapp argued that we should move away from an individually-based understanding of creativity toward a participatory understanding of creativity:

Maintaining an individual orientation towards creativity is harmful to young people in a few different ways. First, it suggests that some people are more or less creative than others, or that some people are creative whereas other people aren’t. This misconception puts students on false career tracks that don’t take advantage of their potential… in contemporary workplaces, we don’t bring lone geniuses together to solve complex problems, we bring teams of people together to solve problems. If we think of creativity in terms of ideas rather than individuals, we open up the possibility for multiple people with many abilities and perspectives to participate in the creative process.

Reframing our understanding of creativity as a social and distributed process, Clapp argues, is a necessary first step in ensuring that a greater number of students can access creative learning experiences and develop their creativity.

Given MCC’s commitment to ensuring that a greater number of our young people have access to creative youth development opportunities, we’re excited by this line of thinking and how participatory approaches to creativity may increase equity throughout the field of creative youth development.

Does this idea of a Participatory Understanding of Creativity resonate with you/your work?

Mass Creates 1st State Program to Support El Sistema Music Education

Last week, a crowd of nearly three hundred joined us at Artist for Humanity’s EpiCenter as we announced the launch of SerHacer, MCC’s newest grant program supporting creative youth development. SerHacer (To Make, To Be) will provide pilot grants, instruments, and technical support to the following youth music programs across Massachusetts:

  •  Berkshire Children and Families, a social service agency based in Pittsfield. Its Kids 4 Harmony program meets after school each day at Morningside Community School.
  • El Sistema at Conservatory Lab, a Dorchester charter school that provides extended day learning that includes 15 hours of music each week.
  • Bridge Boston Charter School, founded just three years ago and growing one grade per year at which every student makes music every day.
  • Worcester Chamber Music Society, operates an afterschool program known as Neighborhood Strings in Worcester.
  • Josiah Quincy School Orchestra Program, a Boston Public School, which offers an hour and a half of music, before and during the school day.
  • MusiConnects in Mattapan, home of the Boston Public Quartet, which works afterschool with students who would not otherwise have access to music education.
  • El Sistema Somerville, an afterschool program at the East Somerville Community School that is also supported by city government.
  • Also three organizations will receive planning grants to explore new programming: Cape Conservatory in Hyannis; Boston Conservatory, which is working to develop a choral program for young people on the autistic spectrum; and Berkshire Children and Families, which will expand its work to North Adams next year.

State Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg congratulated our grantees, and called SerHacer “another innovation for Massachusetts that will help our young people lead more active civic lives and discover their own potential.” Picking up on this thread, Robert Lynch, CEO at Americans for the Arts underscored the value of the arts, saying that, “kids today need the arts. They need the arts for better living, better academics and test scores, and for better coping with all of life’s challenges.”

To better understand the connections between musical studies and essential learning skills, SerHacer will also fund new research led by Ellen Winner and Sara Cordes at Boston College. Building upon a base of similar studies that have enhanced our understanding of the role of arts in youth development, this study will examine the strengthening of skills such as focus, planning, and problem-solving—skills that are crucial to success in and out of school.

See the Full Press Release.

Progress Report: Collective Action for Creative Youth Development

policy plank working group at National Summit on Creative Youth Development

The growing, national collective action around the emerging field of creative youth development continued last week at the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s conference.

Local and national partners reflected on the ways in which we can each support youth-centered programs in the arts, sciences, and humanities while also building capacity as a field—an imperative from the National Summit on Creative Youth Development hosted by MCC earlier this year.

As we tackled questions such as How might we capitalize on the strengths of individual leaders and programs, and How might joint efforts better serve youth?, the Guild’s Executive Director Jonathan Herman reminded us of the many creative youth development accomplishments that have unfolded this year:

And, First Lady Michelle Obama has adopted the term creative youth development when speaking about this work.

We’d like to hear from you: What are some accomplishments from your creative youth development work in 2014?

AFTA’s Latest Blog Salon Focuses on Creative Youth Development

artsednetwork
In conjunction with National Arts Education week this week, Americans for the Arts (AFTA) is hosting a weeklong blog salon dedicated to exploring important next steps for the emerging creative youth development sector. Throughout the week AFTA’s Arts Education blog will highlight issues related to research, programming, evaluation, funding, and advocacy, and will explore the insights and puzzles presented from leading voices in the field. MCC’s own Erik Holmgren kicked off the series by making the case for investing in creative youth development and articulated a number of the tangible benefits — educational, social, and economic—that derive from investing in youth through the work of this sector.

Follow the conversation throughout the week and contribute your thoughts via AFTA’s blog or on Twitter (using the hashtag #creativeyouthdevelopment). Happy National Arts Education week!

Massachusetts Programs Continue to Shine

PCAH Awards Logo Fifty organizations from across the country have just been recognized as 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalists by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and its cultural partners – the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services –for their work in providing excellent out-of-school arts and humanities learning opportunities to young people.

Congratulations to the three Massachusetts programs included in the list:

The 10 winners, selected from this list of 50, are expected to be announced at a White House ceremony some time this fall.

Live Web Cast: Creative Youth Development Summit

National Summit on Creative Youth Development logo

Tomorrow is the day!

Thought leaders in the field of out-of-school youth development—based in the arts, humanities, and science learning—from across the nation are gathered in Boston for the National Summit on Creative Youth Development: Unite. Celebrate. Activate.

Join the Summit’s live web cast and add your comments to the deliberations in real time. Three sessions will be streamed:

Welcome and Opening Remarks from the Summit: Laying the Foundation
Friday, March 28, 8:30 – 9:45am

Summit Caucus Progress Reports
Friday, March 28, 2:00 – 3:30pm

Closing Celebration: Announcing the Agenda and Launching the Campaign
Saturday, March 29, 2:30 – 4:00pm

Comment on the proceedings and the emerging agenda in real time. Comments received during the Friday sessions will be passed along to the caucus chairs to be added to the discussions going on in Boston. Pledges of support for the agenda received during the Saturday session will be added to the public declarations voiced in Boston and will be cataloged along with those received on-site in the published report on the Summit.

Join the conversation on twitter. Use the hashtag #cydsummit14 to follow the Summit and add your voice to the discussion.

Efforts to Develop Youth Creativity Produce “Ripple Effects” that Benefit Communities

New Research Sets Stage for Boston Summit to Advance Emerging Field of Creative Youth Development
Setting the Agenda cover imageOut-of-school programs that develop the creative capacities of young people are uniquely positioned to drive civic and social progress in their communities, according to new research. The research report, Setting the Agenda, is drawn from surveys and interviews of adults and young people from more than 150 youth arts, humanities, and science programs nationwide.

“Today, youth are increasingly becoming disconnected from their communities and the means to make a successful transition to adulthood,” the report states. “At the same time, creativity is growing in its importance to addressing changing economic, social, technological, and environmental challenges. In this context, creative youth development programs are an asset, and supporting and increasing their impact is of great importance.”

Setting the Agenda was commissioned in advance of the National Summit on Creative Youth Development by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and National Guild for Community Arts Education. The organizations are partners in presenting the Summit, which takes place in Boston March 27-29, 2014. The research was conducted by Dr. Lauren Stevenson of Junction Box Consulting in Oakland, CA.
Read the full press release.

Joy Counts, But How Do We Count It?

Kathe Swaback
Kathe Swaback

Käthe Swaback, Program Director at Raw Art Works in Lynn and Project Leader of the Boston Youth Arts Evaluation Project, is about as enthusiastic about logic models and quantitative assessment as anyone I know. (She’s even more enthusiastic about measurement than I am!) Recently, Käthe shared with me here renewed passion for finding ways to measure joy and engagement in young people who participate in arts, humanities, and science learning programs afterschool. She reminded me that “nearly half of high school dropouts in the nation report quitting school due to boredom. …. Seems like a lot of research has gone into assessing sadness and anger, but joy and passion?”

Here is Käthe’s ode to finding ways to measure joy and engagement:

We Know
They seem to find it easy to take a ruler to my sadness
Aren’t afraid to confine my mental madness
And yet my joy, my joy they say is not worth measuring?
They can quantify my syntax but cannot see my passion?

We become so willing to deny our native tongue,
We are told that a fork looks enough like a paintbrush, so paint with it.
Our songs are dissected into crumbs that tumble to the ground

Those numbers cannot seem to define us, bind us, or even find us at times,
But the metaphor knows more than the poet
And can address, access, and undress in an instant.

For the arts unlock the well-worn slammed-shut doors
And, like the smell of your mamma’s pancakes
Wafting through the cracks in the walls,
Your songs, paintings, and plays
Invite us to awaken, to engage, to connect
To the then and the tomorrow,
And shouts of the NOW of today

We know we know we know
With our whole being
We know

With the same skill that tunes a C sharp
And can see the difference between turquoise and teal
We need to be able to describe the excitement in the eye of Marcus
As he reaches for that note and holds it.

Shayla, with charcoal all over her face,
Renders her hand on paper, deeply seeing every line,
And falls in love
With that pulse that beats in the in-betweenness of things.

We know we know we know
With our whole being
We know

Let us ignite, unite, and fight
With resonant songs
That sing the stories with precision greater than numbers profess
A vibrant but often silent language
Holding the heart-thumping humanness
That recognizes that grin
From ear to ear

– Käthe Swaback 2013

Harvard Medical School professor George Vaillant points out that, “negative emotions help us to survive individually; positive emotions help the community to survive. Joy, unlike happiness, is not all about me—joy is connection.” Kathe eloquently cautions us about being seduced into measuring things that are easy to measure or bullied into measuring things that others say are important. We need to continue to struggle to find ways to measure what is truly important, to our programs and more importantly, to our young people, to our communities, and to their success.