"I once did this exercise earlier in my career. We had to list all the reasons someone might join an after-school program and all the reasons why someone might join a gang. The reasons were the same—belonging, community, security, prospects for earning, and somewhere to be. So what's the difference? In an after-school program, there are people actively rooting for your success. They really care to see what you do in your future and make sure it's a safe and sustainable road to opportunity. So it's always been incredibly important to me that Urban Arts has that element of care."
Joelle Blackstock is Urban Arts' Student Success Manager. She is the key to all of our college access and planning. "It's not just me, though," says Joelle. "The sense of community starts as soon as a student enters our program. Financial insecurity is a massive barrier for our students, but so is everything else that contributes to their anxiety about the future. It could be their home lives or the pressure for them to be the first in their families to attend college. It could be their responsibility to other family members or personal situations. It makes the college process so much more overwhelming. So having a sense of community instilled in our programming from day one allows them to be open and lean on us as much as they need to."
What makes Urban Arts programming different than other after-school programs? "Agency. Students have it at Urban Arts. They choose to be here with us, learning in this way. We give them flexibility on how they approach their education with us, but they vote with their feet. It's up to them to make it happen and we're here to provide all the support and guidance they could possibly need. What makes me most proud is watching them help themselves, because they feel like they have the right people in their corner."
How does Joelle encourage this self-efficacy in students? "By demystifying things. Like the FAFSA. So many students think college is unattainable because they feel the FAFSA is too challenging to figure out. So I show it to them. I show them a sample and give them tips on how to fill it out. And then they realize nothing is too hard for them to handle. It's just one step at a time."
Our students are superstars. But what sets our program apart for them is the care provided by faculty like Joelle, and the generosity of support from donors like you.
Double your impact with a year-end gift between now and December 31st. Every dollar raised up to $50,000 will be MATCHED by longtime Urban Arts supporters, Bill and Amy Conway. Don't miss out on this amazing opportunity to invest in our students.