Urban smARTS

Program Description

The City of San Antonio Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs initiated the Urban smARTS afterschool program in 1993 to prevent high-risk students, ages 10 to 12, in San Antonio, TX, neighborhoods from engaging in delinquent behaviors. The Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs joined the YouthARTS Development Project in 1995 and began operating Urban smARTS as a YouthARTS program in 1996. Teachers and counselors at each participating school from the San Antonio Independent School District referred to the program primarily sixth grade students who were experiencing academic failure, had poor school attendance, and engaged in antisocial behavior. Urban smARTS provided afterschool art workshops that were designed to achieve:

  • Improved social skills (e.g., communication with peers and adults, teamwork).

  • Improved academic performance and commitment to school.

  • Improved art skills.

  • Recognition for new skills.

  • Positive relationships with adult role models and peers.

  • Improved self-esteem and attitude toward the future.

Artwork from the Urban smARTS program in San Antonio, TX These outcomes were expected to lead to academic and social success and decreased delinquent behaviors.

Since the inception of Urban smARTS in 1993, the City of San Antonio Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Department of Community Initiatives, and the San Antonio Independent School District have worked together to develop the Urban smARTS program curriculum and define the roles and responsibilities of the partnering agencies and program staff. Staff positions included a project manager, teacher liaison, caseworkers, and artist instructors. The director of the San Antonio Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs served as program director, and the department was responsible for hiring and training staff. The Department of Community Initiatives provided caseworkers for case management and for facilitation of prevention-oriented discussions during the program. The school district referred students from seven schools to the program and provided teacher liaisons to help the artists conduct the workshops, space in the schools for the art workshops and performances, transportation for participants who lived farther than walking distance from the school, and snacks during the afterschool workshops. The program director assigned a team consisting of three artists (including one lead artist), four caseworkers, and one teacher liaison to each of the seven schools. The team was responsible for making decisions about program format, discipline, and schedules.

Before the start of the Urban smARTS program in 1996, a 5-day training session was offered to all artists and caseworkers. This training focused on issues related to working with at-risk youth (e.g., behavior management), curriculum development, and school rules and regulations. It also provided an opportunity for the artists and caseworkers to learn more about each other's disciplines and to develop strategies to integrate the art and prevention-focused curriculums.

Children need to experience a sense of accomplishment and be recognized for their efforts. This program enables kids to succeed at something and provides them positive feedback.
Urban smARTS Artist

Being in the program has made me a better writer. I was never interested in writing before this program. Now I love to write.

Urban smARTS Participant

I had never performed in front of a crowd before. It made me feel good and proud of what I had done.

Urban smARTS Participant

Before I started the program, I was hanging out with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble. Now I do better in school and see myself as an artist.

Urban smARTS Participant

You hear people say art saves lives. That may sound funny, but programs like Urban smARTS keep youth off the streets and away from dangerous situations, like gang activities. Our youth feel safe in our program and have positive outlooks on the future.

Urban smARTS Executive Director

In October 1998, the Urban smARTS program joined nine other youth arts programs at the White House in being recognized with the "Coming Up Taller Award," an award given to outstanding arts and humanities programs for young people.

Although more than 400 youth were referred to the program in the fall of 1996 (approximately 60 youth per school), only 112 participated regularly. Youth dropped out of the program because of lack of interest, family obligations, involvement in other programs, and/or problems in school. Although disappointing, the attrition of students from the program resulted in more one-on-one interaction between staff and the youth who did participate, which proved helpful for the artists, caseworkers, and participants. Although somewhat inconsistent in the beginning, attendance and involvement in the workshops increased as the 112 youth became more involved in the activities and bonded with the artists and other participants.

Urban smARTS conducted 3-hour afterschool art workshops on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for 16 weeks at each of the seven schools. The primary art forms offered at each school were drama, dance, and visual arts. During the first few weeks of the program, the participants spent part of each 3-hour workshop with each of the artists to learn about the different art forms. After several weeks, the youth were divided into groups based on their level of interest in these art forms. The youth then worked with the artist to develop skills and produce their own art. All of the youth also helped prepare the final public performance and/or exhibit that concluded the 16-week session. During 13 of the program's 16 weeks, caseworkers provided weekly 30-minute sessions in a group setting in which they discussed prevention-oriented topics such as decisionmaking, conflict resolution, self-respect, and substance abuse.

Evaluation Activities and Findings

Conducting the evaluation of the Urban smARTS program proved to be a significant challenge, complicated by logistical, legal, program management, and methodological issues. Of the seven participating Urban smARTS schools, only five participated in the evaluation (one lacked the case management component, and the other was excluded because it was an elementary school). Project managers excused two of these five schools from having to identify a control group, believing that, as new Urban smARTS programs, they should not be burdened with this requirement. In the three schools where control groups were identified, teacher liaisons selected sixth grade classes with teachers willing to administer the YOC survey and participate in subsequent data collection activities. Recognizing that these comparison youth were neither randomly assigned nor matched on key characteristics, project managers nonetheless believed the selected youth would be comparable to the program participants because most of the youth at each school shared similar demographic characteristics and faced similar risk factors. This proved to be true. The participant and comparison youth were similar on key factors. Ultimately, only one of the five schools participated in the followup evaluation, which included only program participants (i.e., no comparison group).

For various reasons, evaluation data for Urban smARTS were somewhat limited. Late and uneven administration of some data collection activities, combined with misplacement of many postprogram surveys by the project manager, circumscribed the analyses that could be conducted. Although complete preprogram and postprogram YOC survey data were available for all 112 regular program participants, data were provided for only 29 comparison youth. Art knowledge, academic, and skills assessment data were available for only 93, 86, and 78 participants, respectively. Followup data were available for only 22 participants from one school. Survey and archival data were augmented with interview data from the artist staff and with focus group data from program participants.

Participants' gains in art knowledge were difficult to determine because of late administration of the preprogram art knowledge survey. Testimonies from participants and art instructors suggest, however, that the youth did learn a considerable amount about the different art forms that were taught, and, more important, youth had a greater interest in and appreciation for the arts after being involved in the program. The desire expressed by youth for the Urban smARTS program to be offered in sixth grade and ninth grade, both transitional years for most students, was evidence of their enthusiasm for the program.

Findings from the end-of-program participant skills assessment show that most participants demonstrated program-related skills throughout the program, and youth who did not demonstrate the necessary program skills at the start of the program mastered these skills by the end. As shown in figure 4, the greatest changes were reported in two skill areas, working on tasks from start to finish and demonstrating art skills necessary to produce quality artwork (i.e., skills identified by artists as essential, given the art form being taught). Many artists reported that most participants showed marked improvement in their overall social and art skills.

Figure 4: Program-Related Skills Exhibited by Urban smARTS Participants

The results of the YOC survey support the effectiveness of the Urban smARTS program as a prevention initiative. Most participant and comparison youth reported having favorable attitudes and engaging in positive behaviors at program startup. During the program period, however, more participants than comparison youth showed improvement in their attitudes about school and in their behavior (i.e., less self-reported involvement in delinquent behavior). Additionally, participants were more likely than comparison youth to sustain their appropriate attitudes about drug use, resistance to peer pressure, and sense of self-efficacy. The fact that program participants could maintain their high scores over the course of the program better than comparison group members suggests that the program may help buffer these youth against many of the risk factors that can affect them at this age. Official court records also supported this finding. A review of the records found no court involvement before or during the program period for any of the 112 participants. Only two participants had committed an offense during the 22-month followup period (both cases of shoplifting).

Based on the survey data available from participants at one school at the 22-month evaluation followup, the youth maintained their appropriate attitudes about drug use, positive peer associations, resistance to peer pressure, frequency of delinquent behaviors, and positive relationships with adults after completing the program. These findings were echoed during focus groups with the 22 followup participants. Most of these youth reported that they felt more mature, worked harder at school, and tried to be better people as a result of being involved in Urban smARTS.

During these focus group discussions, students reiterated their enthusiasm and support for the Urban smARTS program. They enjoyed their participation and the opportunity to learn about the arts. In addition, they said the program taught them how to appreciate things around them, get along better with others, deal with emotions in a constructive way, and communicate through music and the arts. Several participants indicated the program had taught them to be more self-confident and helped them believe in themselves. Several students said that they "hung out with the wrong crowd" before participating in the program and that the program had helped them to stay out of trouble by keeping them off the streets and giving them something to do after school.

These findings suggest that the Urban smARTS program was successful in meeting its goal of keeping the youth participants engaged in positive afterschool activities and preventing their involvement in delinquent behaviors. Program caseworkers concurred, noting that during the students' participation in the program, their behavior and attitudes improved and they became more respectful of others.

Analysis of the academic data revealed less promising findings. Average grades for participants did not change during or after the program. This was not surprising to most of the program staff, however, because the Urban smARTS program did not focus on core academic subjects such as math, science, and English. Some evidence suggests that program participation may have helped improve school attendance. Program staff are reconsidering the relationship between participation in Urban smARTS and academic achievement and hope to refine the intended academic outcomes of the program in the future.

Plans for the Future

After completing the transition of the Urban smARTS program administration from the San Antonio Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs to the Department of Community Initiatives and hiring a permanent program director, program staff examined the evaluation results and focused their attention on improving program implementation.

Expansion of the program in schools. Based on the positive findings from the evaluation and increased local interest in the program, the Department of Community Initiatives has expanded the program into other local school districts and is considering expanding into the San Antonio high school system. Teachers, principals, and former participants have expressed interest and identified a need to expand the program into high school to provide services during ninth grade.

Redistribution of resources. Expansion of the program into more schools has already resulted in the need to redistribute resources. For example, to extend the reach of the program to more schools, one artist works in each school rather than the multiple artists who worked in each school during the evaluation period. Although the implications of this change are unknown, it was necessary given the current availability of resources.

Greater collaboration among key agencies and organizations. The program director is focusing on collaboration among the caseworkers, artists, and school personnel (i.e., teachers, principal, counselors). Improving the working relationships among the parties is expected to improve program recruitment, retention, and operation. With greater attendance and better coordination of services, youth are more likely to experience positive change.

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The YouthARTS Development Project Juvenile Justice Bulletin May 2001