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Arts education and training program at Riverzedge Arts helps students earn credit

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Arts education and training program at Riverzedge Arts helps students earn credit

Welcome to our series on credit for learning in afterschool programs! Afterschool programs can provide older youth opportunities to find their inspiration and gain skills that will benefit them in and outside of the classroom while allowing them to earn school credits. Credit-for-learning programs in the afterschool space — which can range from students earning physical education credits through a local YMCA to taking part in a boat-building course for elective science credit —are a valuable resource that individualizes knowledge acquisition and complements school day lessons for middle and high school youth. This blog post has been adapted from the Riverzedge Arts program spotlight.

Riverzedge Arts serves students ages 14-21 through their Arts Education and Training (AET) program, where youth are paid to work on real-world, client-led projects, and their Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) program, in which students earn high school credits outside of the classroom through experiential, career-focused programming. Intentionally designed to foster student engagement, the ELO program is youth-driven, with students’ interests determining everything from creating ELO offerings to developing the structure and content of their final student projects. At Riverzedge Arts, students can also design their own individual ELO in partnership with industry mentors and program staff that best align with their interests and credit needs.

A typical day for students

All ELOs at Riverzedge Arts take an applied learning approach, however, what this looks like differs depending on the ELO. On any given day, students may work on independent research, participate in group work sessions, or go on field trips to community sites focused on their topic of study. Students are typically working away from the classroom with their mentors and engaging with the community and the environment around them. For example, in a health focused ELO, students may work one-on-one with a medical professional who serves as their mentor in a hospital, pharmacy, or research lab setting. A typical day would involve taking part in hands-on experiences such as CPR training or using patient simulations and “dummies” to better understand the human body.

Outcomes 

Based on a 2020 report, a majority of youth at Riverzedge Arts believe that they are likely or extremely likely to graduate from college or enter the workforce in a full-time job, confirming that the program is helping prepare youth for the future. A majority of youth also stated that they feel more prepared for life after high school and can communicate more honestly and openly. More than half of students agree that they better recognize their strengths and weaknesses and that the program is effective. All students enrolled in the programs at Riverzedge Arts maintain 90 percent attendance and perform higher on standardized tests than their counterparts at Woonsocket High School. Among Riverzedge Arts seniors, 100 percent graduate from high school or attain their GED.

Program characteristics 

The Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) program at Riverzedge Arts revolves around its mission of empowering students to become self-directed learners both inside and outside of the classroom. Youth voice is incorporated throughout the program to create personalized learning experiences and individual pathways to graduation that excite students about learning and engages them in their education. Riverzedge Arts has found that students are more motivated and perform better academically when interested in and passionate about the subject matter. 

Riverzedge Arts has two ELO options for students—pre-planned ELO courses they create and offer to all students and individual ELOs, both driven by student interests. Both ELO options provide real-world learning experiences for students and create connections between youth, industry professionals, and the community. Riverzedge Arts’ education director and AmeriCorps VISTA member survey students to determine the interests and credit needs that inform their course offerings. Once the program gains an understanding of what students want, they identify community partners and work with Woonsocket High School to find an accredited teacher to evaluate the ELO and approve the credit earned. Students can sign up for the ELO of their choice and  can further individualize their experience by focusing on a specific topic within the larger context of the course. For example, when students expressed a common interest in artificial intelligence and animation, Riverzedge Arts worked with the nationally-renowned Rhode Island School of Design to implement an ELO around this topic. Students in this ELO first learned the fundamentals of design and illustration as they began their creations, before moving onto developing the software skills needed to execute their final products. This approach is in keeping with Riverzedge Arts’ commitment to pair youth participants with industry-specific mentors, while making sure they learn industry-standard skills.

In addition to the ELO courses, Riverzedge Arts provides students the opportunity to design an individual ELO on the topic of their choice. Students first identify a field of study they would like to explore and work with program staff to find an industry mentor in that field that fits their credit needs. Students and their mentors work together to design the curriculum, develop an individual learning plan, and prepare their final project. Ultimately, students are responsible for making the case to an accredited teacher that both the ELO they envisioned and the work they completed deserve high school credit. This process was developed to empower students to have a say in what and how they are learning.

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