Culturally-based after-school arts programming for low-income urban children: Adaptive and preventive effects.

Mason, M. J. & Chuang, S. (2001). Culturally-based after-school arts programming for low-income urban children: Adaptive and preventive effects. The Journal of Primary Prevention. 22(1), 45-54.


This study examines the impact of participation in Kuumba Kids, an arts-based cultural enrichment program, on student development and behavior. The Kuumba Kids program engaged students for two hours per week in a theater and dance curriculum highlighting African culture. The researchers used a survey designed to assess student behavior that was administered to students, parents, and teachers. The researchers then compared outcomes for seventeen students participating in the Kuumba Kids program with outcomes for sixteen students not involved with the program. All of the students included in the study resided in the same community in Rochester, and were from similar minority and low-income backgrounds. As noted by the researchers, these background factors were found in previous studies to be related to increased risk for stress, under-achievement, and delinquency. At the study’s conclusion, the researchers found that students engaged in the arts program had higher levels of self-esteem, social skills, and leadership ability compared with their peers who did not participate in the program.

Key Findings:

The researchers found that children in the Kuumba Kids after-school arts program demonstrated significantly higher growth in self-esteem, leadership ability, and social skills compared to similar students who did not participate in the program. Furthermore, the researchers found that over the course of the semester in which students were engaged in the program, parents perceived improvements in their participating children’s attention, adaptability, as well as social and leadership skills.

Significance of the Findings:

The results of the study—observed improvements in self-esteem, social skills, and leadership ability—point to the value of afterschool arts programming as a tool for nurturing young people’s positive development. The current research suggests that participation in such programs deters high-risk behaviors and simultaneously promotes healthy relationships with peers, parents, and school authorities.

Considering current trends in education and social services sectors with interests in identifying effective interventions for “at-risk” youth, these initial findings are of particular import to policymakers, who will be necessarily interested in this type of research. Furthermore, given that further investigation into this issue is warranted, researchers interested in exploring the association between youth development and learning through the arts will be needed to contribute to the existing bodies of literature in this area.


The researchers recruited a total of 51 participants for this study. The sample included parents, teachers, and students participating in the Kuumba Kids program as well as respective parents, teachers, and students as a comparison group who were not affiliated with the Kuumba Kids program. The researchers then adapted the Behavior Assessment System for Children protocol (an instrument used to assess child behavior) in the form of a questionnaire. The questionnaire was administered to both groups before the start of the Kuumba Kids program and after the program ended, sixteen weeks later. The researchers also collected survey data in which teachers and parents of the students in the study were asked about their perceptions of their students’ attitudes and behaviors. Again, the researchers administered this survey prior to the start of the Kuumba Kids program and again sixteen weeks later at the program’s conclusion. From the collected data, the researchers then calculated mean scores on the surveys, and compared these mean scores by group. Furthermore, the researchers also calculated effect sizes, a measure that was used to indicate the degree to which scores on the surveys were influenced by participation in the Kuumba Kids program.

Limitations of the Research:

Intended as an initial investigation into the effect of culturally relevant arts programming on students’ pro-social development, the authors acknowledge a few limitations of the study. First, the design of the study did not allow for causal inferences. In other words, one cannot assume that the students’ participation in the program caused the improved behaviors that the researchers observed. Second, the researchers note that they were unable to determine the specific feature of the after-school program that was associated with the students’ positive outcomes—that is, whether it was the artistic component of the program or the program’s cultural relevance. Furthermore, in several instances the positive trends observed in the sample failed to reach statistical significance, meaning that these trends could be due to chance. Lastly, due to the relatively small sample size of this study and the idiosyncrasies of the Kuumba Kids program, the findings of this study will not necessarily generalize to other after-school arts programs.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What structures (i.e. intensity, frequency) and curricula comprise “best practices” in arts programming as an intervention strategy for “at-risk” youth? In other words, what are the qualities of arts programs that catalyze positive youth development outcomes such as those the researchers observe in this study?