A youth program in the city of Buffalo is designed to prevent high school drop outs and promote graduation. WBFO's Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley recently visited The Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT) after-school program where city high school students are using their creative talents to succeed.
A videography class was underway where students were working on a variety of video projects.
“So my current project is to be taken out of my comfort zone,” said Trayvon Frisby, a second year student at the Oracle Charter School in Buffalo. He is one of the many students attending the BCAT program.
“As you can see it’s a very social environment and we all basically get along after the first day – it’s just like, ‘Hey bud, how you doing,’” explained Frisby.
“The arts really brings out their passion,” stated DaVon McCune, Youth Coordinator at BCAT. He gave us a tour of Main Street facility.
This Youth Arts Program is based on the vision of Bill Strickland, a MacArthur Fellow. McCune said Strickland wanted a results-driven after-school arts programs and the focus is youth remaining engaged in high school so they’ll graduate.
“It’s the same promise we make to our kids: If you go to school every day, you can come here and do art. So if our kids go to school every day they can come and do art every day,” McCune explained.
McCune explained how the teachers and staffers encourages students to use these art lessons to strive for higher grades back in the classrooms.
“My kids know that I want a 98 and I set a high goal for them, but I also tell them that, you know that you’re not doing algebra for algebra sake, you’re not doing history for history sake. That algebra, that’s your music right there. That algebra, that’s your videography or photography or if you happen to play sports, that’s your scholarship. You’ve got to get good grades and so we try to focus those creative energies back into the school,” McCune remarked.
“The best part of coming here would be knowing you have a future, unlike other places where they tell you things–you don’t really believe them,” declared Demarcus Vaughn, a senior on track to graduate from the Buffalo Alternative School 44.
We first met Vaughn at the end of last year where he was interning at the Erie County District Attorney's office. This time we discovered Vaughn in the BCAT program where he works on singing and rap music.
“As long as there is resources for kids to let their inner soul out, it will always be good for somebody to be on track of something,” Vaughn said.
“I think it helps them understand that there are different environments for learning,” said Kevin Kline, one of the instructors in BCAT’s Media Youth teaching. That’s where the students work on their videos.
Kline said this this offers them a sense of completion and team work.
“They can come here and they’re still learning stuff that’s completely outside of what they do during school, but it’s still stuff they can practically use going forward,” Kline explained. “We show stuff in film festivals across the country, so they get pride from that.”
In a large art room we found another set of students. Trunika Williams is a Bennett High senior who was painting. She said she started attending this program a freshman.
"I like the structure of it, the meaning behind it and how I can learn new things,' Williams said. "Teaching me stuff that I think I know, but don’t know.”
Hutch Tech freshman Desha Renshaw was working across from Williams on cartooning.
"Everyone’s like really nice here and then they teach you how to do certain things, like if you do not know how to do, you could just go to the teacher or one of the other students and ask them for help and they’ll help you,” Renshow described.
Inside another classroom we found more students working at computers. They were in the middle of a creative writing session.
“Poetry in high school is all about validating students' voices,” said Tom Dreitlein. He teaches Spoken Word where students hold daily discussions, then participate in a "free write."
“You get to see these kids come up and write something they completely created on their own. It’s their own story. It’s their own emotion and then a room of their peers claps,” noted Dreitein.
“I feel while I’m in here, I can get more love and appreciation for who I am as a person,” explained Marcus McConnell, student at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. He was working on his free writing skills.
“And while I’m in here, it feels like no one can judge you and you can like express yourself how you want to do what you want to do,” McConnell explained.
“I learned a lot from this class, but from the whole program as well,” replied Sehrean'Dayu Brown, Tapestry Charter High School student who was working alongside McConnell.
“Spoken Word – it’s really free space, open space – and you can talk about anything on your mind or anything on your heart. Basically everyone supports you while you read your poem,” Brown declared.
Students say they like coming to the BCAT program to be creative. But we've been told that for some, it provides a sense of escape from difficult home lives in troubled neighborhoods.