During the summer of 2015 while planning the second year of ACTIVATE, Arts for LA recognized an opportunity to expand the program to a new audience: students. Based on a “train-the-trainer” model, this program would train those who are already engaged with students on ways to incorporate advocacy training into their work with youth.
In May 2015, Arts for LA had participated in LA Youth Vote, the United Way’s initiative to register high school students to vote, and staff had personally registered students to vote and chaperoned them to the voting booth on May 19, 2015. That powerful moment inspired Arts for LA to consider ways to engage young voices that wanted and needed to be heard.
The result was a Student Leadership Lab (SLL), a program designed to empower student voices in school district decision-making that aligned with both ACTIVATE and Arts for LA’s work on California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). With support from the California Alliance for Arts Education (CAAE), the SLL program set out to ensure that as local school districts set priorities and funding allocations under LCFF, and that young advocate voices would be heard in shaping those priorities. The SLL, which later became coined as ACTIVATE, became one of three strands of CAAE’s larger Student Voices Campaign that sought to “empower students to be creative, effective civic leaders; nurture students’ visual storytelling skills, and create powerful evidence of the value of arts learning and student voices.”
A vital component of this project has been community partnership. Arts for LA partnered with Get Lit: Words Ignite, a local poetry organization that works directly with youth from various communities across the Greater Los Angeles area. Fusing the power of classic poetry with the spoken word movement, Get Lit programs foster cultural understanding, creative self-expression & performance technique.
In the fall of 2015, Arts for LA developed a leadership-training curriculum for students to empower them with digital storytelling skills and an understanding of effective civic engagement strategies. This curriculum offered key learning objectives and suggested lessons/activities to fully immerse students in artistic leadership and advocacy training as well as educate students how local schools are governed in California. This curriculum encouraged students to become participants in school district decision-making processes and asked them to document their process and progress, as well as create short videos that show how and the arts can engage student creativity and passion.
After the training, students were energized with a new sense of advocacy and purpose.
My experience during ACTIVATE was incredible. It taught me so much about educating myself in order to make an impact on my community. I came out of the program confident in myself that I can make a positive change. One huge thing that I took away is that some times people don't know what you want, and you just have to use the voice that you are born with to let them know.
Some of the greatest, most in depth discussions I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing were a result of our ACTIVATE meetings. ACTIVATE allowed for us forward-thinking individuals to come together and learn from not only our mentors but each other. In the process of creating and pursuing social change we had an outlet that helped foster our passion into tangible solutions.
The ACTIVATE program has given me the confidence to speak eloquently about causes I am passionate about. It has also given me a way to express concerns about my community.
For the larger Student Voices Campaign, CAAE launched a state-wide contest for short videos created by students, grades 7-12, that demonstrated how young people can make a difference in their school districts. 20 videos representing 7 counties were submitted, with the winner announced on April 30 in a special ceremony at the San Francisco Art Institute.
The winning video was created during the ACTIVATE program and submitted by Get Lit: “A Student Named Art” by Miriam Sachs.
Miriam shares: "The process of making the film took a lot of planning and collaboration, and I think the act of making the movie in itself fulfills the message of the piece: that art is important, and schools should take it seriously. By making a movie with students from many different schools coming together for a common purpose to celebrate art, we were able to show that art is vital, and that we don't mind staying at school from 2-10pm to shoot a movie about why we need creativity in the classroom. When people watch it, we hope that this spirit of expression, freedom, and collaboration is evident and contagious!”
The future – our future – will be shaped by these youth, and Arts for LA will be there to offer resources, partnership, and guidance as they create change in their communities. Arts for LA remains committed to empowering advocates – of every age – to develop their skills and engage with their communities through art.