Where can students spend time after school honing career skills and building a portfolio?
Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools’ career-oriented program Digital Art Afterschool Studio offers students exactly that.
Last year, one of the biggest themes in the projects we funded was real world relevance. Students are often bored with classes that they can’t see themselves using in the real world. Tactile skill based courses such as Art and Music have limited career prospects when compared to STEM courses. The Digital Art After School Studio is a prime example of how to synthesize real world skills and arts education in a way that profits both the school and the students. Over the past three years they have turned from a tiny operation that struggled to find funding to a nearly self-sufficient model that will continue for years to come.
To recap, what is the Digital Art After School Studio?
The Digital Art After School Studio program was created with the idea of giving students with an interest in graphic design a place to learn the procedures and expectations of actual client-based projects. The initial goals were to give students exposure to a workplace environment and ideally an increased level of workplace etiquette and knowledge of practices. The other, more long-term goal for the program was to get students more in touch with the community in order to build a client base that will continue to support the program long after the grant funding ends.
According to their project report
“Once establishing these relationships, the students were expected to maintain contact with the client. This follow-up was intended to build community ties that would emphasize the relationship the school had within the community, as well as introduce the students as individuals of worth to the adults in the community who were involved in running small businesses.”
Where are they now?
First and foremost, the most unexpected and fantastic occurrence has been the increased student involvement and ownership of the program. Word of mouth has gotten so strong that they no longer need to recruit to replace graduating members. They have students lining up to put their name on the list. The students this past year even took their ownership of the program so far as to elect to rebrand it the “Painttank,” a think tank for artists. During the past year they’ve had numerous visitations from other schools that are interested in emulating their model. They see students voluntarily giving up their afternoon freedom to work on their own projects and wonder how they can reproduce this in their own schools. The answer is simple. By cultivating an atmosphere of independence and freedom to explore their individual styles, the students become personally invested in their own work and growth as artists. Not only that, it’s completely student driven in the hours after school, acting autonomously and driving its own progress forward.
One of the biggest victories the school has achieved is the founding of the Overton Foundation, a non-profit entity that allows for donations to be made without getting caught up in the bureaucracy of the school district. In previous years, it was difficult to distribute funds from those wanting to pay for the studio’s services.
“With this new entity we will now be able to create a cash flow that revolves around the work produced and reward those students involved with direct, over-the-board, payments. This will provide the opportunity for students to learn to keep a job budget and understand pricing. It also allows for our studio to bid on jobs, and provide invoices for those we complete.”
The Overton Foundation is key to the future self-sustainability of this project.
In terms of improvement, the program is always on the hunt for new clients. Most of the initial client base came from sources directly related to the student and school, but now with multiple accolades under their belts and a sizable portfolio, the Studio is looking to expand further into the community. With the hurdles of creating the Overton Foundation and the initial cost of computers and software suites out of the way, it’s really up to the students and their mentors to guide this program into the future.
And it’s looking like a bright one.
Gallery of Afterschool Studio Artwork
Further reading on Real World Enrichment
- Co-op Programs Becoming Popular for Real World
- The Great Debate – Education vs. Experience
- Real World Experiences
Learn More about Career-Oriented Curriculum
Why does this matter in real life?
One of the chief complaints you hear from students is “How can I actually apply what I’m learning to the real world?” And while there is no helping Algebra in that department, there are a myriad of other subjects that can benefit from a dose of real world interaction. This is what the Digital Art Afterschool Studio is doing. It’s taking a cue from larger real world curriculum programs, such as Career Oriented Curriculum and focusing on digital artistry and community involvement.
What is Career Oriented Curriculum and how can it benefit students?
According to District Administration, a website focused on creative solutions for school districts: “A summer job for a 16-year-old typically involves serving coffee, scooping ice cream, or babysitting the neighborhood children. Some students at Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools, however, spent their summer vacation designing a children’s Web site for the city of Miami Beach. An increasing number of students are finding themselves mingling among professionals with internships in local businesses—the culmination of a work-based learning curriculum.” These real world experiences are invaluable to students as they do two things:
- Reality Check Experiences like this show the students the real life application for what they are learning.
- On the Job Experience Projects like the digital after school studio create professional connections that go beyond graduation and help move our students forward professionally.
One organization with a stellar track record in this area is the National Academy Foundation (NAF). Since 1982 they have worked tirelessly with teachers and schools to create and implement career-oriented curriculum. Schools that work with the NAF will frequently require an internship with a local business before allowing the student to graduate. According to NAF:
“Over 90 percent of NAF students graduate from high school, and four out of five students continue to college or postsecondary education. Of those students, 52 percent earn a bachelor’s degree.”
How do you do it?
So how are the teachers and students at Overton High School, where the Digital Art Studio program has been in full swing for two years, applying the idea of career oriented curriculum to their specific needs?
According to their proposal “The after-school Digital Arts Studio program … enables students to build professional-level skills, as they develop their artistic portfolios. … The students will be introduced to client-based projects where they are expected to develop a working relationship with the client resulting in a marketable product.”
The program operates similar to a small graphic design studio. Taking place three times a week for two hours after school, students have the opportunity to really put work into a portfolio, and increase the possibility of scholarships and if a professional internship is tacked on, some AP credit. Projects are introduced from the needs of real world clients who the students and teachers reach out to. The projects can be anything from helping a local business create a print add to designing a website for a church event. This helps create crucial bridges between the school and the community around them, ultimately strengthening both.
This program has had to start small, accommodating only a few students at first. The principal and instructors consult with local ad agencies to create an interview process for students to simulate a job interview. The students selected work together to create a marketing campaign to alert the community to their presence and start soliciting clients. It is their hope that this model will, after a couple years, become self-sustaining.
What is the impact of a Career Oriented Curriculum?
So where are the students that have already passed through this program? Here are just a few of the success stories.
- Olivia Campbell, a second year participant, was awarded a full scholarship to attend University of Tennessee’s summer program for her Digital Art exhibited in the West Tennessee Regional Art competition last winter.
- Darion Beasley, King Hobson, and Maurico Farmer (all second year participants) were selected as three of the thirty-three students chosen to be represented in the Frist’s Museum’s exhibition Tennessee’s Top Young Artists.
- This year’s West Tennessee Regional Art Competition just released their awards and participants currently in the program won Best Graphic Design work, Best Photographic work, and placed in several other categories.
- One of the program’s participants, Cesar Pita, was just offered a $66,000 scholarship, the Presidential Scholarship, from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, one of the finest art colleges.
And these are just a few stories of success as this program continues to grow.
It’s clear from the work that NAF does and how Overton High School applies it to their own program that career-oriented curriculum puts students at a huge advantage over their peers that do not participate. By giving students an education grounded in reality, rather than existing in the abstract on the white board, we strengthen their chances of succeeding in the real world. Forging professional connections early on only increases the chance of future employment and education. By also giving students a personal stake in how their work is perceived by the community at large we give them the opportunity to push themselves to create something they can be proud of.
Learn More with these Related Links
- Career and Technical Education: Research
- Linking Learning to Life
- Career-Oriented Curriculum Delivers Critical Skills
- Proof is in: Career-oriented education works