Community-based arts program for youth in low-income communities: A multi-method evaluation

Wright, R., John, L., Alaggia, R., & Sheel, J. (2006) Community-based arts program for youth in low-income communities: A multi-method evaluation. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 23, 635-652.

Abstract:

The article presents findings from a quasi-experimental evaluation of the National Arts and Youth Demonstration Project (NAYDP). The three-year evaluation was conducted in five sites throughout Canada. Each site implemented a nine-month theater program for nine to 15 year olds that also incorporated visual and media arts. The goals of the evaluation were to (1) determine if a community-based arts organization could implement the program, (2) assess the impact of the program on students’ artistic and social skills, (3) determine if community arts program have positive effects on students’ conduct and emotional problems, and (4) examine the students’ and parents’ perspective about the program.

The researchers collected data from observations, attendance records, surveys, and interviews with parents and students. Results showed the program positively affected the students’ behavior and attitude, including improvements in arts skills and social skills. Additionally, students in the program had fewer emotional problems than students in a control group. At a programmatic level, findings indicate that students are more likely to participate in arts programs if the program actively recruits the students, is free, provides free transportation and snacks, and communicates with parents.

Key Findings:

Results show that the NAYPD program positively affected students’ behavior and attitudes. Students improved their arts skills and social skills, and had fewer behavioral problems as a result of participating in the program. Students in the program also had fewer emotional problems than students in a control group.

Interviews with parents and students found that students are more likely to participate in arts programs if the program actively recruits the students, is free, provides free transportation and snacks, and communicates with parents.

Significance of the Findings:

Findings indicate that participation in an arts program has positive effects on students’ behavior and attitudes, including fewer behavioral and emotional problems than those who did not participate in the arts program. Educators and therapists may want to include arts activities to help improve students’ attitudes and reduce behavioral problems. Further, the study identified aspects of an arts program that make participation more likely, which those interested in implementing a similar arts program could use during program planning.

Methodology:

Researchers evaluated a Canadian after-school theater and visual arts program over three years. The program was implemented in five sites and 183 low-income students’ ages nine to 15 participated in the evaluation. Researchers used propensity score matching to obtain a comparison group of students to assess changes in student behavior and emotional problems over time using Hierarchical Linear Modeling. Evaluators also used data collected from observations, attendance records, as well as surveys and interviews conducted with parents and students.

Limitations of the Research:

The researchers did not describe the number of students in the control group, how they were selected, or any demographic characteristics. The researchers matched students on “socio-economic status and emotional and behavioral functioning” but other factors were not used to match the students and therefore the groups could have been very different.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Would similar results be observed if students were randomly assigned to the conditions? How did program implementation affect student outcomes? Did something about the program other than the arts have an impact on student outcomes?