When Sara Demeter’s son started kindergarten at the Josiah Quincy elementary school in 2010, she said she was “shocked” to find out there was no arts instruction due to budget cuts.
Originally from Jordan, Demeter loved art as a child but arts education was nowhere to be found in public schools there, either. So she recycled tools and toys to make her own art, and her love and interest continued on as she got older.
“You find therapeutic calming and focus and there’s also this underlining of this academic benefit which I always knew about from doing so much research and finding facts,” she said.
Demeter decided to do something about the lack of arts education at her son’s school, and she put together a cohort of local artists, parents, and teachers at the school and created what later became known as the Art Resource Collaborative for Kids (ARCK), which infuses art with Boston Public School’s K-8 curriculum. ARCK as an official nonprofit began in 2012.
“I found my passion and my voice and I wanted to be useful and give something back to my community,” Demeter said. “I felt so grateful to be in America, safe and respected and go to school and get a great education. I took that as not for granted.”
Demeter said she really felt the need for this type of program in Boston Public Schools when she realized just how many didn’t have art instruction. “This is where these kids need me,” she said. “This was the spark for ARCK. All the kids deserve an equitable and fair and diverse, rich education.”
When school is in session, ARCK brings art teachers into the schools for art activities based on something a particular class or grade level is reading or learning, and the activity is based off of three modules: leadership, civic engagement, and social justice.
Demeter said that the modules are visualized in a donut shape with three rings. The innermost ring is leadership, which helps the kids ask: “who am I?”, civic engagement is the next ring, asking “what is my role in the community?”, and the outermost ring, social justice, asks “how am I an agent of change?” and promotes critical thinking and empathy.
“Our lessons promote empathy towards themselves, people, children, and also towards the environment,” Demeter said.
ARCK’s lessons align with academic standards and take a universal approach to learning, so every child is able to participate. ARCK also works with students on a community and social justice model project each year. A recent project was a water mural which outlined why water is important. This year, she said that students wanted to work on the roof top garden at the Josiah Quincy School, where they would learn about decomposers, consumers, and composting—but this has been adapted now that kids are out of school.
Since Governor Charlie Baker announced that Massachusetts schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year, children are now learning remotely from home. But Demeter didn’t want them to miss out on the creative collaborations ARCK offers, so she has figured out ways to keep bringing the lessons to kids as they learn from home.
ARCK looks to “give them the tools to navigate this crisis while they’re anxious, fearful, and their normal environment has been disrupted,” Demeter said. “Art itself offers that therapeutic means of stress release and a calming effect and helps them focus.”
Demeter said that ARCK and its teaching artists have been communicating with Boston Public Schools about integrating these lessons into students’ remote learning lessons. “We now share a lot of these lessons remotely,” she said. “A lot of schools responded quickly to the lessons.”
Additionally, ARCK will also be making videos as well to really do as much as it can to keep some semblance of normalcy in the students’ lives.
“I stopped paying myself and I’m paying my teachers because I want to keep them on board,” Demeter said. “They’re doing great work. The lessons they’re coming up with are a quick version of our regular lessons but they still meet the mission.”
Demeter said that ARCK and other nonprofits allow “the hard hit families and kids to be equal to other people and to contribute to the social fabric,” especially during a crisis like this.
“We need all of us together,” she said. “Now is the time for nonprofits to lead the way. Our communities need us.”