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Community Voices: Building bridges for success through the Arts

Alex Harris



Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

For the past nine weeks of summer, in partnership with Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Cohort of Champions, my team and I engaged an intensive and fun series of workshops, trainings and field trips for “at-risk” and “high-risk” students throughout greater St. Petersburg, primarily students residing in Midtown and Childs Park communities. With a strategic focus, aligned with our mission to Educate, Empower and Enrich the lives of youth and teens, we provided quality programming, exposure and exercises that positively impacted all of our student participants. Many of the students shared at the last session how the summer ACT impacted their lives, and their eagerness to return to school with a new focus.  

Hearing the students share with each other their newfound goals for learning, and excitement to return to school ready to achieve their highest success, was an amazing and inspiring moment to witness. 

For ACT, the arts are not confined to one idea or traditional understanding. The meaning of the arts resonates in the space of learning about the art of leadership, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, public speaking and healthy living. While the students studied scriptwriting and created their own short-film, Should Have Been Nice, they also learn the art of leadership, financial literacy and public speaking. We believe the lack of quality programming and exposure for students in socioeconomically challenged neighborhoods is a major contributing factor to an increase in attrition and unskilled workers. In essence, many of our students are failing because there is a failure to provide quality resources that will prepare them for a brighter and better future. 

According to Kolberg’s (2013) study, nearly a third of America’s young people are not realizing their full potential (Weiss, Little, Bouffard, Deschenes, & Malone, 2009). It is not because they do not have the intellectual capacity, but because they are “disabled” by systemic policies that are preventing students residing in socioeconomically-challenged neighborhoods from excelling. How can the necessary academic and occupational skills be developed for a competitive global economy and society when there are no bridges or viable access for success? A disproportionate number of these students suffering come from low income and/or ethnic minority families who often do not have access to quality education, medical, social and other non-school supports as their wealthier peers (Darling-Hammond, 2007). 

To acknowledge the problem is one thing, but we must actively participate collaboratively to do something about it, as we grow smarter as an inclusive community.  

While ACT is at the helm of systemic transformation by building bridges of hope through the arts, there is still much more work to be done. We must continue to affect policy, so no student is left on the margins of our society, and that each has equal and equitable access to succeed at the highest level of success. 

To learn more about our organization, please visit www.artsconservatoryforteens.org or call us at: (727) 346-8223. 

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