Mayor Judith Vallas

Los Niños en Acción/The Kids in Action Program of San Juan

Introduction & Description of Need

San Juan, the capital city of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, has an estimated population of 450,000 of which approximately 45% live below the poverty level. This segment of the population lives in over 53 low-income communities throughout the city, where the average family income is about $6,000 a year, and unemployment is above 20%. These communities are characterized by low levels of education, a lack of skills and training, drug addiction, alcoholism, high divorce rates, and a high incidence of teen-pregnancy. Despite a decline in Type I crimes since 1996, there remain pockets of crimes, disproportionately concentrated in these low-income communities, many of them involving teenagers.

While municipal police programs have contributed to the decline in crime, the Mayor of San Juan, Sila M. Calderón, is clearly aware that improvements must address the socioeconomic needs of these communities. The Municipality has implemented countless economic and social initiatives in partnership with residents and the private sector. Los Niños en Acción (Kids in Action) a program started over two (2) years ago, is one such initiative.

Los Niños en Acción provides youth from low-income communities, between the ages of six (6) to twelve (12), with the opportunity to express themselves both intellectually and artistically through the production, twice a year, of their very own newspaper titled with the same name, Los Niños en Acción. The principal objective of the program is to develop self-esteem among at-risk youth by promoting their creativity.

The children learn to confront problems and issues that impact their lives daily, such as child and drug abuse, school truancy, teen pregnancy, politics, and the contamination of their environment. From the discussion of these problems, the students develop a heightened understanding of their complexities and possible solutions, which is expressed in their literary and artistic compositions. The program runs from Monday to Friday during after school hours. It is an initiative of Norma Salazar, a community educator, and the Department of Culture of the Municipality of San Juan. The community-based program also operates through a partnership with the residents of seven (7) low-income communities in San Juan.

Program Description

The main objective of Los Niños en Acción is to encourage creativity and critical thinking in children from low-income communities. This process helps to develop their self-esteem, and contributes to breaking down psychological and socioeconomic barriers that stunt their natural development. The program is organized through a series of journalism workshops. The children develop strong writing and group organizational skills, work on commentating news and social problems, prepare and select drawings, articles, and other literary compositions for publication. In 1998, sixty-five (65) children participated in the program, and, currently, another seventy-five (75) children 2 are involved. Since the program's inception in November 1997, three (3) newspapers have been published.

The program is divided into two (2) semesters, with a cycle of thirty (30) days per community. Each community workshop has a maximum of twenty (20) children and lasts for two (2) hours each day. Workshop content includes: teaching children to select news topics, performing interviews of leaders and personalities of their community, producing artistic material, and drafting the newspaper's editorial. The latter allows the children to develop their own opinions on issues and narrate their journalistic experiences, an internal exercise that develops their critical thinking.

Students select their own topics, with guidance provided by their teacher. At the end of each semester, during a special meeting called "Seminar on Youth Journalism", all community groups meet to review, discuss, and select, by majority vote, the final material to be published. The children learn to and interview key people to discuss the problems they face in their own communities, and express these experiences through writing and drawings.

The interviews provide children with an opportunity to appreciate life, understand the importance of ideas, and how to interpret their social environment. The involvement of parents and community volunteers is a fundamental part of the workshops. They contribute with their time and often serve as speakers in the workshops. In order to recruit the children, the program's coordinator and educator, Ms. Norma Salazar, meets with members of the resident councils of the communities and presents the program's concept and potential benefits to children. Their cooperation is required to establish the program in the communities. Eligible children interested in participating are recruited and the community selects the on-site location for the workshops. Currently, seven (7) communities participate in the program: Trastalleres, La Perla, Puerto de Tierra, Luis Llorens Torres (a public housing project), Israel-Biturnul Ward, Peninsula de Cantera, and La Marina sector of Barrio Obrero. Most, if not all, the residents of these communities are in great economic need.

Los Niños en Acción in San Juan was inspired by a similar program first started at the University of Zulia in Maracaibo, Venezuela, by Dr. Luisa Hidalgo and Dr. Fernando Ordonz. The program there met with tremendous success, as has the program here in San Juan. There is no doubt that it could have a similar experience in other communities around the United States.

The program has the financial support of the Department of Culture of the Municipality of San Juan, which covers the costs of art materials, the publication's printing, and the educator's fee. The Program received an honorable recognition from the Senate of the Legislature of Puerto Rico on September 17, 1998.

Los Niños en Acción has a partnership with corporate sponsor, Walgreens, that coordinates efforts for the donation of art materials and equipment. Future plans for the program contemplate new partnerships with academic institutions like the University of Sagrado Corazón in San Juan which may provide physical space so that children over 12 years of age who have completed the program, can become tutors for the younger children.


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