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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Arts program targets at-risk students
Studio 345 aims to reduce dropout rate
Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 9:12 am
by Michaela L. Duckett


The Arts and Science Council is launching a new initiative in partnership with Mecklenburg County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to tackle the county’s high school dropout rate.

Studio 345 is based on the work of internationally acclaimed author, philanthropist and businessman Bill Strickland. Strickland came to Charlotte this week to meet donors and students in the program. Here he signs copies of his book "Make the Impossible Possible."

Studio 345 is a free, out-of-school program for CMS students in grades 9-12 that uses digital photography and digital media art as a means to keep youth in school.

“We want students to learn the five competencies of digital media literacy,” says Barbara Ann Temple, Vice President of Education for ASC. “We want them to learn that they have a voice so that they can be empowered.”

Temple said ASC decided to focus on digital media art and photography because they felt it was a great medium for students to use to express themselves and tell their stories.

“We wanted to speak to what we thought was current and in the 21st century,” she said. “These are CMS students and in the common core of their curriculum, digital media literacy is at the top in terms of a 21st century student.”

Temple says the response to the program, which officially begins next month, has been phenomenal. She and the 11 artists and photographers who have been hired as instructors spent four days last week canvasing CMS high schools and inviting students to an open house for the program, which was held last Thursday. Nearly 100 students showed up.

Initially, ASC had 64 slots available for the pilot year, but has increased capacity to at least 80 students. Even with the additional spaces, Temple says there is a waiting list of 48 students.

Studio 345 is based on the work of Bill Strickland, an internationally acclaimed author, philanthropist, businessman and recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award. Strickland has worked with youth and adults across the nation through the Manchester Bidwell Corporation’s National Center for Arts & Technology. An average of 96 percent of those enrolled in MBC programs graduated high school, and 89 percent moved on to college.

Strickland’s philosophy is that environment drives behavior.

“These kids need beautiful environments,” he said. “These kids are coming from some tough situations. Most of the time they are convinced that they can’t learn and that they don’t have a reason to learn.”

He said often times they come from environments where they do not see much success. He believes when you change that environment, expose youth to new experiences and positive people you get positive results.

Strickland says his philosophies come from his own experience of growing up in poverty.

“The arts saved my life,” he said. “It changed my sense of whether I was a potential asset or just looking at the world as a liability. By being introduced to clay (sculpting), I got good at it and I started to build confidence in learning.”

Strickland said there was also a socialization component. Artists would come into the school he attended. He had the opportunity to meet new people. The combination of those experiences inspired his desire to make a contribution to his community and the world around him.

“A lot of learning is about the emotional ability to feel that you are capable of learning,” Strickland said. “The arts do that in a very powerful way.”

While the program is open to all CMS high school students, there is a special focus on youth who are most at risk for dropping out.

Twenty slots in the program are reserved for students attending West Charlotte High School, which is in CMS’s Project LIFT zone. ASC is also partnering with the juvenile court system and has reserved 15 slots for youth involved in the system.

Embracing Strickland’s philosophy that youth need beautiful surroundings, ASC has transformed two areas in Spirit Square into contemporary studios equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

The works of Studio 345’s instructors are displayed in the Wells Fargo gallery at Spirit Square. The artwork of youth participants will be on display in December.

Temple said Studio 345 will also provide students with experiences in the community, workplace and in higher education. The goal, she said, is to expose them to places they may not otherwise have an opportunity to visit.



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