Young Audiences Western New York Helps Most-at-Risk Through the Arts

 
Between 2009 and 2013, Erie County, NY reported having carried out over 6,000 juvenile arrests (www.criminaljustice.ny.gov). In many cases, poverty, insufficient education, and unsupervised time during out-of-school hours have all been identified as contributing factors to increases in high-risk behaviors in young adults. A study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Policy Studies Associates, Inc. found that regular participation in high-quality afterschool programs is linked to significant gains in standardized test scores and work habits as well as reductions in behavior problems among disadvantaged students. (www.policystudies.com
 
In the fall of 2013, in response to what they saw as an increasingly high need for creative afterschool outlets which provide at-risk youth with access to equitable, enriching arts experiences, Young Audiences Western New York (YA-WNY) developed the Most-at-Risk program. The Most-at-Risk program is a year round afterschool program which, in partnership with the Erie County Department of Mental Health, provides “at-risk” Erie County youth with opportunities to develop skills that will assist them in navigating the world successfully. Many of the students involved in the Most-at-Risk program have been charged with a crime or have been recently released from a detention facility, may exhibit self-destructive behaviors, or have been victims of abuse, and most of them are living in poverty. One of the main goals of Most-at-Risk is to reduce the number of repeat offenders in the system by offering more creative and constructive outlets for students. During the 2013-14 school year, the retention rate – the percentage of students staying for the entire duration of the program - was 83%, up from 55% during the pilot year.
 

 
The Most-at-Risk program focuses on providing a dynamic and culturally rich educational experience for students in a safe and supportive environment. Students have the chance to participate in hands-on activities in many art forms, including an exploration of spoken word, creative writing, drama, visual arts, and technology. The Most-at-Risk program not only offers these students the opportunity to participate in rich arts experiences, but it offers them a place where they can talk about the things that are going on in their lives where they know people will listen to them. When not directly involved in arts-based activities, students in the program often participate in circle conversations, where they have the chance to talk in small groups with other participants as well as staff about issues they are having, or hardships they are facing. 
 
“I really didn’t want to be here. I had no intention of coming, but the first day, everything flipped and I started to like it because it gave me a chance to be creative. I was always sectioned off because I was real anti-social and I wasn’t good at interacting with other people, but within these past couple of weeks, I’ve been interacting with many people more, and I’m breaking out of my shell.” –Daijah, Most-at-Risk student
 
Many students like Daijah come into the Most-at-Risk program with a similar mindset. They are a bit skeptical at first, but encouraged through art-driven interactions with their peers, they have learned to open up and to focus their energy towards cultivating newly found artistic passions and friendships.
 
Right now, YA-WNY enrolls 120 youth in the Most-at-Risk program each year. YA-WNY hopes to expand the scope of the Most-at-Risk Program in the near future, in order to help even more teens across the Erie County region. For more information about YA-WNY visit their website at www.yawny.org.
 
To hear the Buffalo WBFO radio story about Young Audiences Western New York's Most-at-Risk Program, click here.
 
 

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