A Medium for Intervention Art Program Reaches out to At-Risk Teens

Article excerpt

Byline: Diane Dassow Daily Herald Correspondent

Sally Newton's job as an assistant public defender in the DuPage County court's juvenile division puts her in contact with young people who are already in trouble.

But after hours, this attorney focuses on keeping kids out of trouble through a set of unique partnerships.

Newton, a Glen Ellyn resident, is the executive director of Community Art Partners, which she founded in the summer of 1999. Through this not-for-profit organization she brings artists in contact with young people, especially those who might be at risk of winding up in juvenile court.

Surprisingly, Newton has never had an art lesson. She came to appreciate art when her children were in elementary school and she acted as a "picture lady," giving short art appreciation lessons in their classrooms.

"I started going to the Art Institute and attending lectures," she recalls. "I thought, this is such a great way of knowing about the world in general."

Her interest led her to give an art project in an alternative school for at-risk students.

A light bulb went off.

"When I'd give an art project (instead of a lecture) they seemed so much happier and nicer to each other. They seemed to know instinctively how to attack a project like that," she said.

"When I gave a lesson on Gaugin, I brought in pineapples and coconuts and asked the students to figure out how to look inside. They cut it in beautiful pieces like they were working in fancy restaurants," Newton said.

The lesson on Gaugin, rather than lulling the students into bored indifference, charged them with energy.

"They were happy, kind of humming to themselves. When they get into the flow state, they're engaged," Newton said. "Once they've had that confidence, they're more open to learning."

It's not unusual to find students who fail to thrive in some traditional school environments, Newton said. They may not respond well to teaching methods that require them to sit still, take notes and memorize facts.

"Art taps into different areas of the brain," Newton said. "It also helps (the students) be more collaborative and less confrontational. …