Las Artes helps 17-21 year-olds find their way

By Claudette Langley

Las Artes first 2012 graduating class earned a colorful display at the school.

Las Artes first 2012 graduating class earned a colorful display at the school.

The innovative Tucson-based education program Las Artes, Arts & Education Center combines the creation of public art with study for the General Education Diploma (GED) and helps its students recognize their potential along the way.

The Pima County Program creates a supportive and challenging environment for young people who have dropped out of school to earn their GED and to learn how to be part of a creative process. Students attend class 30 hours a week for up to 32 weeks and walk away with a diploma. They also leave behind a piece of themselves in the artwork that very often ends up displayed around Tucson’s public spaces, such as libraries and parks.

This tile of United Farmworker's of America founder Cesar Chavez is an example of the work created by Las Artes students.

This tile of United Farmworkers of America founder Cesar Chavez is an example of the work created by Las Artes students.

In the expansive workshop, students group around tables and work intently on their piece of tile that will be added to the whole to make a stunning mosaic. The mosaics capture a wide-variety of scenes, including cultural icons such as United Farmworkers of America founder Cesar Chavez and brightly colored Dia de los Muertos skulls.

While their creative juices get flowing in art workshops, their world gets a little bit bigger every day in their academic classrooms as they learn basic skills and prepare to take their GED.

“I was teaching the class about the Bill of Rights the other day,” said Robin Redondo, head language teacher. “And this young man looked up and raised his hand.  He said ‘Miss is this true? How can I get involved in this?’ For many of these young people the idea that they have rights such as these is a new concept.”

Students entering Las Artes take a placement test which matches them with the level education that will serve them best. They will either enter into the level I or level II and the 8-week community art project. For level 1 students the entire program can take up to 32 weeks.

To help offset some of the costs of attending school, including transportation and supplies students receive a small weekly stipend.

Las Artes meets its students’ needs on a holistic level. It provides not only educational support but case management services that address language barriers, anger management, health counseling and family issues. The students’ basic needs are often met as well food is provided during the day and they are provided resources for food outside of school, as well.

“I always say nutrition before education,” said Diane Brown, workforce development specialist.

Through its partnership with the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona the school also provides much needed diapers and wipes to its young parents, which according to Brown, takes some of the financial burden from the parents and their families.

“Diapers are so expensive and take the most out of the money I have,” said Jasmine, a Las Artes student. I am so thankful to get them from The Diaper Bank; they have saved me from not being able to eat more than once!”

Brown said that the school  is always looking for 17-21-year-olds that need its services. Youth must complete an application and take an academic assessment before placement. . For more information on Las Artes, call 520.724.5050 or visit the website.