This award-winning community-based program designed for vulnerable children and youth grades K-12 has established a close collaboration with the University of Michigan through the Residential College course, “Empowering Communities through Creative Expression”. This course offers students the opportunity to explore how the arts affect change in communities. It challenges the understanding of what it means to be empowered and how to be an agent of empowerment. Students learn how to apply the arts as a tool for change in issues of social justice.
This class is taught by a team of teachers that practice engaged-learning as an instructional tool. Students develop the capacity to formulate creative arts interventions through exposure to engaged-learning practices in the classroom and through hands-on work with one of five exemplary community-based projects in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit. This RC HUMS 334.001 course meets with SSW 513.001 and offers undergraduate and graduate students a collaborative learning experience with Residential College and School of Social Work faculty, community artists, and community members from local agencies serving families and youth. Students meet once a week to explore how this genre affects personal, community, and societal transformation through self-reflection, creative response, and the examination of innovators such as Augusto Boal, Hector Aristizabel, Dorothy Heathcote, Anna Deveare Smith, and Lisa Delpit.
The Telling It program serves at-risk youth who must deal with homelessness, exposure to gang activity, and the multitude of other compounding factors that come with poverty. The program employs innovative approaches to boost scholastic confidence by using the healing aspects of the arts in concert with evidenced-based educational and social work practices. The program has demonstrated success in establishing safe and creative environments, stimulating creative writing and literacy skills, and identifying and addressing impediments for personal and academic success.
The RC course brings in student interns to participate as mentors at the Telling It sites in the community. This opportunity encourages and enables university students to develop empathy and sensitivity, as well as develop skills such as leading a group, planning a lesson, and identifying youth needs. The Telling It internship opportunity bridges the academic and local community. As a result of their experience, many U-M students express a desire to continue their commitment to social justice through a career that involves community service.
Since 2002, Telling It has engaged more than 400 children and youth and seen significant changes in the behavior, literacy skills and future vision of the participants. In addition to the program’s long-time community partners - the University of Michigan, SOS Community Services, and Avalon Housing, Telling It is now collaborating with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office to implement after school programs in the West Willow and MacArthur Boulevard neighborhoods near the Washtenaw-Wayne border.