After School Program Supplements Art Education & More
Often times kids need a place to go after school lets out, especially in places like the east side of Springfield - where Feithsans Elementary School is located. About 90% of the kids who attend come from low-income families, though many parents work long hours to make ends meet. That's where the 21st Century program comes into play - it's a joint effort of District 186 and the Springfield Urban League - and relies heavily on the time and talents of volunteers.
I ended up being one of those volunteers after inspiration struck me at an arts conference in Evanston last year. I met many artists working to make positive social changes through artwork -- people like Maria Guspar. She heads a project in Chicago called 96 Acres where artists in the community work to collectively take on the massive Cook County Jail complex and the impact it has on the people who live near it and in it. "The artwork that we produce, we want it to be a kind of sensitive, thoughtful response to that site - and we do that through actions, performance, theater, radio - books..." Guspar told me in a past interview.
There are many other artists like her in the state and country - people who have devoted their lives to using art as a tool to make the world a better place. Meanwhile, as an arts reporter, I know that community art groups around the state are facing severe cuts when it comes to funding. So I wanted to figure out a way to get involved and share my love of art with kids in particular.
It turned out Project Southtown - a relatively new non-profit in Springfield committed to bettering its community through art and ecology - had the same goal. And so since the beginning of the year, Clare Frachey and I have been going to Feitshans Elementary to lead art projects. It all culminated in an end-of-school- year program and art show. Clare is one of the owner's of Black Sheep venue, located blocks away at the corner of 11th street and South Grand - it's known for it's do-it-yourself ethics and contributions to the surrounding area.
One mom says the 21st Century program has been a big help to her daughter. Tyronda Wilson says as a single-mom with Bachelor and Master's degrees: "It helps because while I'm in school it gives her an opportunity to develop and learn new things and also to build social skills. So I am really thankful for the program and I'm hopeful that the program gets funding so that the kids can continue to learn and grow."
Wilson also gives credit to Deidrinel Masseke - she's the site coordinator for the 21st Century program at Feitshans and she also serves as a sort of family and student counselor - some days she works 12 hours. She worked as a teacher for nearly 40 years before taking on this position. As an artist herself, she says the curriculum doesn't provide enough art classes, kids here get art class only once a week. She says meanwhile, there are plenty of opportunities though for volunteers to make a difference: "Come on out - we will embrace (you) - there are many kids to help."