Mayor Peter Clavelle

Youth Artists and Educators Program (YAE)


The Young Artists and Educators Program (YAE) is a team of 15 low-income and minority teens from Burlington, Vermont’s inner-city who meet twice a week throughout the school year with Very Special Arts instructor Jennifer Cirillo. Since 1997, the YAEers have used the arts to learn about environmental issues confronting their community. With the artistic skills and environmental knowledge they acquire in the program, the YAEers lead classes and workshops, teaching what they’ve learned to hundreds of children and youth throughout their city and state.


YAE has 5 objectives: (1) To provide participating teens with arts and environmental science activities and skills that are unavailable in traditional school settings; (2) to provide participants, through individual and group art projects, with the social and personal development skills necessary for a successful transition to adulthood; (3) to provide participants with the awareness of issues confronting their communities as well as the tools they need to become proactive participants of original work created in the program; (5) to create a model program that uses the arts to teach children and youth about environmental science and local history.

YAE is a collaboration between Very Special Arts Vermont (VSAVT) and the Lake Champlain Basin Science Center (LCBSC). Started 2 years ago as part of Burlington’s Enterprise Community efforts to provide free, after-school activities to inner-city teens, YAE was developed by then-Americorps VISTA Jennifer Cirillo. In its 3rd year, YAE will add another collaborator, the City of Burlington’s Legacy Project. The Legacy Project seeks to involve Burlington’s citizens in planning Burlington’s sustainable environmental future. Through a series of public forums and outreach efforts, the Legacy Project Steering Committee will put forth a comprehensive action plan that will be brought before Burlington voters in a non-partisan, citywide referendum in March of 2000.

Needs Assessment

All 15 YAEers are from low-income families in Burlington’s inner-city Old North End and King Street neighborhoods (designated as a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Enterprise Community in 1995); more than half of them speak Vietnamese as their first language. The Old North End and King Street neighborhoods have the highest percentage of students of minority immigrant and refugee students in Vermont (Vietnamese refugees are the largest ESL group in the Burlington school system). The high school dropout rate for Old North End youth is 7.3% (twice the statewide average), the dropout rate for youth with learning disabilities is over 13%, and for ESL students, the dropout rate is almost 20%. These are also brownfields sites (defined by the EPA as polluted industrial or commercial sites). The contamination levels and the expensive liability issues involved in their cleanup hamper their transformation into green spaces, affordable housing or new businesses.

Program Description

The Young Artists and Educators Program has 2 basic elements: (1) Instructors use the arts sculpture, pottery, poetry and photography to teach inner-city teens about the environmental issues confronting their community; (2) YAE’s teens then take the artistic skills and environmental knowledge they’ve acquired and share them with younger children in their city and throughout the state, conducting classes and workshops in schools and community centers.

Over the past 2 years, YAEers have made a portable science exhibit and accompanying video to explore the social and ecological history of Lake Champlain (Year 1), used computerized Geographical Information Survey technology and designed their own Website to study the Winooksi River; and this year, YAE Year 3, the YAEers will take their artistic skills and environmental knowledge and literally hit the streets, helping the City of Burlington get approximately 250 children and youth involved in the Legacy Project. The YAEers will use poetry, photography, pottery, print and paper-making to learn about the environmental and sustainable community issues; they will then use the arts, science and computer knowledge they have acquired in the past 2 years of YAE to create their own version of Burlington’s future.

VSAVT estimates that approximately 250 Burlington children and teens will participate in this effort. Along with making all YAE activities available on our Website (, this year’s project will be highlighted at the VSA Arts national convention in Washington, D.C. in August, 2000. In anticipation of their role in the city’s Legacy Project, Year 3 curriculum has 6 areas of study: (1) Development/Housing/Transportation; (2) City History and North Street Revitalization; (3) Agricultural and Industrial Pollution and Prevention; (4) Industry/Education/Tourism/Recreation; (5) Non-native invasive species; and (6) Water Quality.

Program Benefits & Evaluation

YAE participants will be empowered to make decisions, increase leadership skills, challenge themselves to try new activities, and reflect on their own experiences. Projected benefits include: (1) Participants will have increased scientific, historical and cultural knowledge and will develop learning skills that will enable them to increase their academic performance during middle and high school; and (2) participants will learn about career opportunities in the arts and environment sciences.

Program Funding

Over the past 2 years, YAE has received funding from sources as diverse as IBN,. The rock band Phish and the Corporation for National and Community Services’ Leani & Serve Program.


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The United States Conference of Mayors

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