Arts-Kids program changes keep founder’s vision in sight
For the past year, Arts-Kids — a local nonprofit that uses creativity to teach children life skills — has tweaked its programs to fit the scheduling demands of today’s students, parents and teachers.
The organization, which was founded in 1999 by child psychiatrist Pat Drewry Sanger, was originally a two-hour, after-school art therapy program that ran for eight weeks, according to executive director “Cowboy Ted” Hallisey.
Now, Arts-Kids offers 30-, 45- and 60-minute sessions twice a week with groups of 20 during a four-week program during the summer. The after-school program is now an extension of the summer program, he said.
“We changed things after parents and school administrators asked what we could give them, in less time, to satisfy that need of showing kids to express themselves through art,” Hallisey said.
Hallisey also expanded the age range.
Arts-Kids used to serve ages 8 to 18, but now, due to the nonprofit’s partnership with Miriam Garcia, the school readiness program director of Holy Cross Ministries, Arts-Kids is now working with ages 3 to 18, Hallisey said.
“This is important because we have found that some of the things we try to teach through Arts-Kids need to come sooner,” Hallisey said. We have found patterns of feeling inadequate, the lack of resilience and insecure feelings of not fitting in are being established earlier in these children.”
Although the format and age range has changed, Sanger’s mission of using arts to empower the students and teach coping skills through Arts-Kids hasn’t, Hallisey said.
“I don’t have an art therapy background like she does, but I have a recreation background,” Hallisey said. “And our team has a performing arts background, which we use to introduce the tools of resilience. Once we do that, the kids are the ones who find ways to do what’s best for them.”
Adding recreation to the STEAM
When the kids find what works, Hallisey and his team call it a “brain reset.”
“It’s really about the kids finding their happy place,” Hallisey said. “That’s when kids are at a place where they don’t feel stressed or afraid. Adults know it as ‘balance.’”
Arts-Kids helps children find their happy place through the STREAM concept, which adds “recreation” to the concept of STEAM, he said. (STEAM is itself an extension of STEM that adds “art” to “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)
“The recreation is how we get the kids up out of their seats to participate in acting, singing, cup stacking and other physical activities,” Hallisey said.
Some of those physical activities are included in programs such as Music, Movement and Emotions, Drama Games, the Art of Breathing and drumming with the Drum Bus, Hallisey said.
“Music, Movement and Emotion shows kids how to understand their emotions, and how to move to a different emotion through music and movement,” he said.
Students will act out their emotions in Drama Games and find balance through the Art of Breathing, Hallisey said.
“When you’re happy, you breathe one way,” he said. “When you’re scared, you breathe another way. So we teach the students how to do a reset, or control and redirect your emotions simply by breathing.”
To drive these lessons home, Hallisey’s 15-year-old son Nicko engages the students in peer-to-peer mentorships.
“Because Nicko is still a kid, he can relate to the students better than I or some of our facilitators can,” Hallisey said. “Nicko will come in and show the students how to use these lessons to find their happy places.”
The students have even taught Hallisey a thing or two, he said.
“We will throw some stuff out there, and the kids will pick the things that will help them find their happy places,” Hallisey said. “We are constantly seeing new ways these kids use these tools.”
Lucia Ferrazzoli, one of the lead Arts-Kids art hosts in Park City, said she has seen a boost of self-esteem in the students who take part in the programs.
“I’ve also seen them go from timid to become more outspoken, and I’ve seen them go from always being in a bad mood into always being in a good mood, which, of course, is part of our bigger goal to release stress and find that happy place.”
Reaching more students
Over the past year, Arts-Kids has also seen a 300 percent jump in the number of students it serves from fewer than 200 students to more than 700, Hallisey said.
The increase in the number of students is also due in part to a larger focus on Latino outreach through Holy Cross Ministries, according to Hallisey.
“One of the educational projects I am personally most proud of being involved in is the providing of reading resources and books, with translation assistance from Miriam, to kids in both English and Spanish,” Hallisey said. “We wanted to start this to hopefully increase the comfort levels of Latino families living in Park City as they interact with their kids in the education process. We also hope that this program will expand opportunities for English-speaking students to learn some Spanish.”
There were some challenges that came with these changes, Hallisey said.
“Some longtime supporters have reduced funding and expressed displeasure with us moving away from what we identified to be an outdated arts-therapy model in favor of my response to the input from educators, which is to move to shorter programs that involve more movement and resiliency training with elements of suicide prevention and intervention tools,” Hallisey said. “But the results speak for themselves – we are serving more kids in more programs and with the most positive feedback from kids parents and educators in the history of the Arts-Kids program.”
To help fill the funding gap, Rocky Mountain Power gave a $3,500 grant to Arts-Kids to help its summer and after-school programming in Park City.
“We are thankful for that,” Hallisey said. “With that grant, we are now able to show teachers how to use our lesson plans and bring expressive arts into their curriculums.”
Hallisey is also grateful that Arts-Kids is still a strong nonprofit in Park City.
“Park City will always be our home base for Arts-Kids and we are honored to now be official providers for several schools and programs here,” he said.
For information, visit arts-kids.org.
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A “Younique” fundraiser on Nov. 5 will benefit those who have survived childhood sexual abuse.