CITY OF MEMPHIS, TN
Mayor W. W. Herenton

Project SOAR

Introduction

Project SOAR (Seeing Opportunities through Arts and Reflections), launched in 1996, is an arts-based, after school program for at-risk children. It provides opportunities for artistic exploration and creative self-expression for inner city youngsters who are vulnerable to negative influences in the after school hours. During the summer, professional artists train designated teachers in the techniques of arts-based learning. Throughout the school year these teachers and artists introduce students (50 per school) to selected performances and exhibits using exploratory and participatory activities that they design together.

Project SOAR began in four Memphis inner city elementary schools and has currently expanded into six elementary and two inner city middle schools. Through Project SOAR, children experience a wide range of hands-on learning adventures, working with professional artists, attending theatrical and musical performances and viewing art exhibitions. Due to the rapid growth of this program and the desire for children to become fully engaged in artistic expression and exploration, there is a great need to increase funding for the recruitment and training of teaching artists. The teaching artist brings to these at-risk youths an awareness of the opportunities and experiences available to them through the arts. The children, in turn, learn to develop self- expression, self-discovery, and esteem building that reduce their chances of being involved in violence, drugs, unwanted pregnancy and other at-risk behaviors.

Quality of Instruction & Participant Performance

Project SOAR ensures the quality of instruction by training a variety of professional artists and teachers. All Project SOAR teachers attend a six-day teachers training seminar and workshop held at the University of Memphis. During this training the teachers view and study the works of art with trained professional teaching artists from the Lincoln Center Institute of New York and the Memphis Arts in the Schools Institute.

The Arts Council provides additional education for the artists and teachers by utilizing planning and training sessions. There are five three-hour planning sessions at each participating school with teaching artists and teachers in which they plan the day-to-day experiences for the children. These sessions provide an opportunity for the artists to preview the works of art to be studied and pre-plan units with the teaching teams.

The training provided by the Summer Institute and the on going planning sessions for artists and teachers to model their teaching methods help develop strategies to maximize the students' involvement. This student involvement encourages the highest quality of participant performance.

Program design and creative content / Creativity of Project SOAR's approach to engaging youth participants. The facilitating teachers and artists design the arts-based units of study for the children, focusing on dance theater, visual art, music, puppetry, storytelling and literature. Each unit takes place over a six-week period of time and is structured to bring in several teaching artists to provide different artistic aspects to the project. Units of study have included a Blues Beale Street unit, Pandora's Box ballet unit. Wood & Strings Puppet Theatre unit, and an African dancing mask unit.

Each unit of study focuses on one work of art, within which the opportunities for creativity are limitless. For example, in the unit on African dancing masks, the children learn the history and symbolism of the masks and how to make them. Each child creates two to four West African-style masks commonly used in ceremonies and celebration. Another artist teaches dance and movements to perform while wearing their masks.

Integration of support services, prevention strategies, and child development/ Evidence that the program is making a positive impact.

The Memphis City Schools have demonstrated support by donating use of the school building during after school hours and providing teachers to work along side the artists developing the units of study and engaging the students in the projects.

Gains have been made for at-risk children through these collaborative efforts: providing children with opportunities to express themselves, learning how to solve problems, developing their abilities to think critically and creatively, and to making positive choices through their experiences with art. "Who knows, I may be a songwriter one day," writes one child. Jurell Reed, a participant of the program wrote, "Project SOAR taught me to do things that I didn't know I could do."

Research conducted by Harvard Project Zero has shown that arts-based education has a very positive effect on young people's academic achievement, self esteem and school attendance. Research work featured in the report Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning found students engaged in art programs develop imaginative, flexible and tough-minded thinking allowing for multiple outcomes. Other studies have indicated that students who participate in art programs show improvement in scores, decline in drop-out rates, and decline in absenteeism.

Role of Mayor & City Government/Community Wide Support/Financing Mechanisms

Mayor Herenton of Memphis is in full support of Project SOAR. As a former superintendent of the Memphis City Schools and a graduate from an inner city school in Memphis, he is aware of the positive impact arts programs have on at-risk youths.

City government and community support are evident by the financial involvement in the project.

Summary

Project SOAR has actively engaged at-risk youth in leaning positive, artistic self- expression and self-exploration. With the current increase in the number of inner city schools interested in providing the after school program of Project SOAR, there is a need to provide more teaching artists and training. This will enable more youth to be exposed to the quality of engaging artistic activities and performances.

We are asking The United States Conference of Mayors to support Project SOAR by awarding the program First Place in recognition of the need to reach at-risk youth through the arts.


 
 


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The United States Conference of Mayors

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