The Arts Draw Students in Program Helps Build Self-Esteem, Improve Behavior

Article excerpt

Spotlights beamed on three Jacksonville middle-school girls and

a River City Playhouse actress as they sang and swayed.

They stood center stage at the Westside theater. Nearby some

youngsters practiced lines for a play while others learned about

stage lighting.

The 25 students were out early on a Saturday to participate in a

new program exposing them to a world many of them had never

known. The program introduces students with learning

disabilities and behavioral problems to the arts. The idea is to

build their self-esteem and improve their grades, behavior and

school attendance.

The African-American Cultural Arts Institute started the

program, called the James Weldon Johnson Society for Youth

Development, in October with kids from Kirby-Smith and Ribault

middle schools.

The program is funded through a $97,500 grant from the

Jacksonville Children's Commission. Theaterworks Inc., Northwest

Mental Health Services and Kirby-Smith and Ribault middle

schools help out with the program.

Arts institute officials transport the kids by bus each Saturday

to River City Playhouse, where they learn acting, and to the

Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, where they learn visual arts.

"Art is the grabber," said program director Ike James. "It's to

really pull them in. It builds self-esteem. It can help calm

kids down."

The kids spend the first two hours of the morning at the

playhouse, where actors teach them an anti-drug play the kids

will perform at their schools. …

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