Together at a Distance: Empowerment Center Programming Unites Kids Despite Pandemic Lock-Down

When we imagine great arts programming for elementary school kids, a few things come to mind: diverse projects spanning multiple mediums and formats, a safe and welcoming group dynamic for confident self-expression, and lots of hands-on collaboration. And that’s exactly what the students in the Art for Social Change after school program at Pioneer Elementary found… until covid-19 sent everyone home.

“We already had a really good dynamic with the group during our weekly meetings,” says Pioneer technology teacher Alberto Gaspar-Jimenez, one of three co-facilitators for the Art for Social Change program. “That made all the difference when we had to move online.” 

With in-person learning suspended, Gaspar-Jimenez and his co-facilitators decided to focus their work — which explored the theme of stereotyping — on a collaborative video project. This format allowed students and teachers alike to contribute audio and video content from their homes, which Gaspar-Jimenez stitched together with material gathered earlier in the semester to create a finished video. 

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Art for Social Change Video with Our Instructors

For Gaspar-Jimenez, the students’ ability to sustain — and even deepen — their involvement in this process exceeded his expectations. Because the technology used for recording only allowed one person to be in the platform at once, the students had to craft their work independently, with only general suggestions from their teachers to help them get started. The results were extraordinary. Says Gaspar-Jimenez, “I learned that if you put the right pieces in place for the kids, at the end they will really be able to articulate for themselves why the class was important, and what they learned.” 

Of course the transition to online learning wasn’t entirely smooth. Challenges with technology access — and the simple ability to remain focussed — caused some students to drift from the program. “I had to realize that these kids are on their screens all day now, and that’s very hard for the kids and the parents. For some, trying to do one more thing for an after-school activity was just too much,” says Gaspar-Jimenez. But for those students who were able to remain engaged, the experience truly helped them grow.

“I couldn’t believe how some of the kids really stepped up and gave their own ideas to the process, and showed confidence I hadn’t necessarily seen before,” Gaspar-Jimenez explains.

In these challenging times, we’re all having to reconsider what it means to learn and live together. For this year’s Art for Social Change students, the lesson is clear: with enough imagination and commitment, community can indeed thrive, even at a distance.