At Youth Off The Streets’ EDEN College in Macquarie Fields, seven students are eager to attend their next visual arts class.
“I enjoy how open your imagination can be,” says Year 10 student Emma*.
“You can project your ideas onto paper or canvas to create a piece that might inspire others.”
Her classmates agree.
Angel* especially loves the freedom and camaraderie encouraged by the classes – as well as the escapism that painting provide from the stresses of schoolwork.
“Art makes everyone feel anew in a good environment,” Angel explains.
“You feel happy and able to express yourself without question.”
The visual art class is part of Youth Off The Streets’ SOLAR (Schooling via Off-campus Learning for At-Risk students) program, which combines online learning with face-to-face classes at EDEN College.
Since 2020, SOLAR has offered a combination of face-to-face learning and online learning to re-engage at-risk young people with their education.
SOLAR is designed for students who struggle in a traditional classroom environment. Many of them may face ongoing trauma, social isolation, anxiety or depression which disconnects them from their learning.
For these reasons, SOLAR School Manager Dawn Grant-Skiba and Student Youth Worker Danielle Costanza became interested in exposing the students to art therapy.
“I was looking for an alternate program that would help students develop their creativity and ability to communicate with others,” Dawn explains.
Dawn, Danielle and fellow teacher Jacqui Davis imagined a visual arts program that would nurture students’ self-esteem and capacity for self-expression.
“The students use a variety of tools, materials and techniques to experiment with sketching, perspective and proportion,” explains Jacqui.
“Danielle has been amazing at teaching techniques such as brushstrokes, colour-blending, painting and ceramics – and I’ve organised visits from experts so that the young people can explore a variety of mediums.”
Together, Danielle, Jacqui and a ceramics artist named Tina assisted the students to complete a number of projects.
Student Emma particularly enjoyed her first visit to a pottery studio, where she got to use the pottery wheel for the first time.
“My favourite thing I’ve created is a bowl, which I made on the wheel by following Tina’s tutorial,” Emma says.
“I added little flowers, hearts and carvings to make it mine, and then I picked out a colour to glaze it.”
The SOLAR students have also crafted fairy-garden terrariums, experimented with spray-paints and acrylics.
The process of painting underwater scenes on canvas gave the students a good opportunity to develop perseverance and patience through trial-and-error.
“Painting was fun, even though I messed up one canvas,” says Charlotte*, one of Angel and Emma’s classmates.
“It gave me a bit of a perspective change, because I’m usually a perfectionist when it comes to my artworks.
“I usually get to a point where I give up if something isn’t going the way I want it to. But I didn’t give up with this one, and now I’m really happy with it.”
The young people are encouraged to reflect on how visual arts has improved their wellbeing.
Danielle and Jacqui agree that “this reflection assisted them to better understand the connection between creativity and their emotional state.
“Beyond the artistic realm, students have also applied their learning to other aspects of the curriculum – like in mathematics.”
Angel has learned to apply new mathematical techniques in her art, alongside gaining the confidence to ask for help when necessary.
“Angel has done excellently in maths and grown in so many areas,” Dawn affirms.
“There has been an amazing improvement in her engagement and desire to try new things.”
Next term, the SOLAR students are planning to repurpose rubbish as artwork and stage a public exhibition.
For now, though, they are enjoying a newfound sense of accomplishment.
“For the first time, I’ve finished what I started,” says Charlotte.
“I’ve never been proud of myself before, but now I am.”
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