Here at CREATE, art is not just a tool for creative expression, it is also a vehicle to promote positive change in our community.
CREATE’s smARTkids program is a free after-school program that aims to positively impact learning and success of students who face circumstances or other learning-related factors that could adversely affect their abilities to succeed in school. By incorporating principles derived from art therapy, our smARTkids program uses visual art to address and increase positive social skills, problem solving and conflict resolution skills, while enhancing self-confidence, empathy, and the ability to cope and adapt to personal struggles and changes.
smARTkids provides students the tools to work through the challenges that impede their educational success, and individualized attention they need to succeed. It began as a pilot program at Greencastle Elementary in 2005 with eight students and has since served over 550 students in seven Montgomery County schools.
Here is what one parent has to say about how smARTkids helped her son:
My son was invited to participate in CREATE’s smARTkids after school club when he was in Kindergarten, and participated every semester through the end of third grade. He was recommended for the program because of his anxiety and difficulty adjusting to school. At age 5 he had already struggled with significant questions of gender identity. He had identified strongly as a girl for several years and when he started Kindergarten he had only recently returned to identifying as a boy, though as he put it, “a different kind of boy.” He felt different from his peers in ways he didn’t understand and struggled to find his place and feel comfortable in his own skin. He was extremely hard on himself, convinced he wasn’t good at most things.
He was uncertain about starting the art club, especially when he learned it would be a group of all boys. He worried about fitting in and being accepted. It quickly became clear, however, that he felt more comfortable in this group than anywhere else in school. When I asked him why he enjoyed the club so much he said, “It’s easier to talk with kids when we’re all focused on the same thing. When we talk about our art I feel like we’re all in it together.” It was clear to me that he was getting much more than instruction in art. He was being provided with the opportunity to express himself in a safe, supportive environment out in world, and outside his comfort zone. For the first time I heard him talk about his art projects with pride instead of self-denigration. In every session he tried something new, free of judgment. The teachers took time with each kid, working with them and talking with them. Talking about the projects in the group allowed him to connect with other kids in a way that was impossible for him in the classroom or in the school yard. It gave him a sense of companionship and commonality that he had always struggled to find.
He felt proud of his art work, and also the work of his peers. He talked about the other boys and what he learned about them – some of their struggles and feelings that came out in their sessions. He seemed to understand the importance of self-expression, not only for himself, but for other kids who have their own challenges.
I can say with confidence that CREATE’s smARTkids after-school arts program has made a significant and lasting impact on my son’s confidence and his comfort with himself and with others. He continues to love art and use it to express himself in new and different ways.