Last week, at GlassRoots Annual Celebration, I had the pleasure of introducing two remarkable young men - Richard and Yanice - as our student speakers for the evening.
Yanice Toha was a Fellow in the first cohort of the GlassRoots-Penland Fellowship program. This fellowship program identifies public high school students with extraordinary potential who may need extra supports to enter the traditional college process. Together with the Penland School of Crafts, GlassRoots extends to these students the opportunity to pursue personal and academic excellence by placing them in a supportive environment, allowing them to explore and build their strengths while earning college credits.
Yanice is now working on his B. A. at Rutgers University, Newark. He credits our program with "giving everything they had to see me succeed and improve in my art making, and never asked for anything in return, except for me to keep learning and growing as an artist. Their devotion to my success opened my eyes as to what it truly means to “give back”, something I have been inspired to do wherever and whenever I can. If I hadn’t taken away anything else from my experience, the lessons I learned about character were enough to set me on the right path."
Those of you familiar with GlassRoots know Richard Paz well - he is one of our star flame shop instructors and the creator of our popular Bead Hive! What you might not know is that Richard came to GlassRoots as a shy nine-year-old in our summer program.
In Richard's own words, "Over the years GlassRoots became a constant in my life, my home away from home. GlassRoots was the place where I found community, I developed myself, and I discovered my passion for art... where I began to develop a stronger relationship with my work and more importantly, myself."
Wow! We know, from extensive research that the arts can have a very positive affect on youth that are facing tough challenges in their lives. Research has proven that at-risk students who have access to the arts, in or out of school, tend to have better academic results, greater likelihood of college enrollment, increased self-esteem and resiliency, better workforce opportunities, improved emotional intelligence, and more civic engagement, such as voting and volunteering.
Our own evaluation reports (the latest of which will be published later this month) bear this out. But, how often do we get to hear about it directly?
GlassRoots knows that the most effective arts programs for youth contain activities that are designed to provide opportunities for youth to learn new skills, recognize individual youth’s efforts, and reduce the influence of risk factors. As a result, our programs have become a safe haven for teens. Our programs emphasize dynamic teaching tactics such as hands-on learning, apprentice relationships, and the use of sciences, math and technology. Many also culminate in public performances or exhibitions to build participants’ self-esteem through public recognition.
We work hard to get this right. Our program and teaching staff wrestle with curriculum updates, with finding the right experiences and speakers, with the balance between instruction and hands-on learning. We don't have a lot of time, nor many do-overs. Many of the young people who could benefit most from our programs do not enroll at all, and a large proportion of those served do not participate long enough to earn education credentials, improve their work readiness and life management skills, and acquire the skills needed to move effectively forward in their lives. With exceptional people like Yanice and Richard at stake, we have to do this all well.
And last Wednesday, Richard and Yanice told us that we do.
Our annual celebration is like new year’s to us. We report to you on our programs and successes since our last celebration. This year, we get to put Richard and Yanice in the yes column. Our goal is to put every young person we reach in that column.
And so, we’re back to it. The celebration is over, but the work isn’t. We’re looking forward to learning who we’ll tell you about next year. We hope you’ll stay with us to find out.