For Chicago’s ‘Forgotten Kids’, Arts Education Builds Skills to Succeed

Arts ed program for high-risk youth boosts conflict resolution, career skills, future focus Tweet This

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For youth involved in the criminal justice system, a better future depends on improving their social and emotional learning skills—skills like conflict resolution, career readiness and preparation for the future.

An assessment by the Urban Institute shows how the Arts Infusion Initiative helped achieve just that for young people detained in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC), and for high-risk youth in the Lawndale, Little Village, Back of the Yards and South Shore communities.

From 2010 to 2015, this catalytic approach to restoring the peace for Chicago’s youth supported 14 nonprofits providing teens with rigorous arts instruction, infused with social and emotional learning goals.

Funded by The Chicago Community Trust, the $2.5 million Initiative built collaborations with the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Public Schools, and Northwestern and Loyola Universities.

A lot of these kids are what I would call ‘forgotten kids.’ And they are getting a sense of humanity from these [programs]—that there are human beings out there that care for them. This has lots of positive consequences for their present and future behavior.”

The Urban Institute’s mixed-method evaluation, commissioned by the National Guild for Community Arts Education with funding from the Trust, concluded that “the fields of education, juvenile justice and family and youth services can benefit tremendously from the emergent approaches embodied in the Arts Infusion Initiative.”

Among the successes their research revealed:

  • Participants showed substantial improvements in social and emotional learning skills, as measured by conflict resolution, future orientation, critical response and career readiness. Improvements ranged from 27% in conflict resolution and career readiness, to 29% for critical response and 36% for future orientation.
  • The initiative helped foster collaboration between program directors, public schools, community policing and the detention center. Examples include the Trust and the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy program working together to open a high-tech digital music lab at JTDC. Chicago Public Schools’ plan for a new Digital Arts Career Academy for at-risk and court-involved high school youth is a direct result of the positive effects Arts Infusion had on youth, and of the relationship forged between CPS and the Trust.
  • The program exposed at-risk youth to new skills and technologies that opened their minds to a positive future. Arts Infusion grants enabled many participating programs to purchase—often for the first time—modern, professional-grade equipment to which many youth had never been exposed. Better Boys Foundation used its funding to purchase enough modern film lab equipment to serve a full 17-student class—previous classes had only one camera to share among all students.

The report also identified a series of recommendations for future programs, building on the Arts Infusion Initiative’s challenges and successes. These include social media tools to retain engagement; flexible lesson plans that provide value for both regular participants and those with only sporadic ability to attend; and final performances or exhibition events that let teens share their work with family and friends.

“A lot of these kids are what I would call ‘forgotten kids,’” said one JTDC administrator. “And they are getting a sense of humanity from these [Arts Infusion programs]—that there are human beings out there that care for them. This has lots of positive consequences for their present and future behavior.”

You can read the complete assessment report, or the short-form evaluation brief, for additional insights about the Initiative.