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In one of the most affluent counties in the United States, the offspring of some of the nation’s most highly educated demographic are being stimulated at a relentless pace.  The prevailing wisdom is that exposure to, and involvement in a dizzying array of extracurricular activities will both enrich our children and help them identify their inner passions.  We stimulate each and every part of their being until they gravitate to those activities for which they feel the greatest passion.  (Not surprisingly, the next social ill to confront us is the mounting stress our overscheduled children face.)

Meanwhile, across the highway, in one of America’s least affluent communities, the after-school hours are the most vulnerable time of day for the aimless and unsupervised.  There are after-school programs offered throughout our underserved communities, but offering a cohesive arts curriculum is more than any standard program can afford, or coordinate.  Yet the arts are considered to be quantifiably influential to a high schooler’s inclination to stay in school.

Neighborhood Arts boasts a strong core advisory group whose task is to follow the latest sociological studies concerning identity and teamwork, so as to implement positive change in underserved communities through exposure to, and engagement in the arts.

Claude Steele, Dean of the School of Education at  Stanford University and a preeminent scholar interested in “stereotype threat” and other sociological phenomena that undermine racial identity, explores in his recent book Whispering Vivaldi the ways in which social roles define us  and how stereotypes are perpetuated by self-defeating attitudes and related anxiety.

There are other Stanford studies being carried out in neighboring East Palo Alto, where Neighborhood Arts has its base of operation, at East Palo Alto Charter School. We hope to incorporate the latest findings into our pedagogical model, as reaching across borders (personal, cultural, and geographical) is central to our mission.

Our 2011-12 pilot site:

East Palo Alto Charter School After-School Program

Delivering Visual Art, Music, Dance and Poetry/Drama to the 4th 5th and 6th graders’ after-school program.

Over two ten-week quarters, we offer a survey ‘sampler’ course, exposing the students to the five disciplines with which Neighborhood Arts is concerned.  After completing the survey course, students can choose two ten-week elective courses to pursue their area of interest in more depth. The goal of all the courses is to give students basic familiarity with elements of each area of the arts we cover. Their skill-building will culminate in a performance for peers, for friends and family, and for other members of the community, who, by design, can participate in some fashion in the group artistic experience.

Any upper school of a grade school, or middle school in underserved communities on the San Francisco Peninsula qualify for Neighborhood Arts classes.  We will continue to build strong community networks so as to be able to make inroads into the after-school programs on offer.  We will concentrate exclusively on after-school programs, as they serve as many as 100 kids per school and are therefore ripe for experimental, experiential creative pursuits.

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