Abstract: "Everybody Is an Artist": Arts-Based Education and Formerly Incarcerated Young Black Men's Academic and Social-Emotional Development in an Alternative School (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

"Everybody Is an Artist": Arts-Based Education and Formerly Incarcerated Young Black Men's Academic and Social-Emotional Development in an Alternative School

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Charles Lea, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Angela Malorni, MPA, Doctoral Student, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Tiffany Jones, PhD MSW MFT, Assistant Professor, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Background and Purpose: Arts-based education is identified as a school-based approach that can enhance the academic and social-emotional development of racial/ethnic minority youth exposed to adversity and trauma (Karkou & Glasman, 2004; Rhodes & Schechter, 2014; Paris & Alim, 2014). However, little is known about the influence these approaches have on the development of racial/ethnic minority youth with histories of incarceration, especially among those enrolled in alternative schools (Cheliotis & Jordanoska, 2016; Denham & Brown, 2010; Thapa et al., 2013). With the Educational Resilience framework as a guiding lens (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1994), this exploratory qualitative case study examined the following question: Does an arts-based education program in the context of an alternative school designed for formerly incarcerated youth (16-25) facilitate academic and social-emotional development? If so, how? A specific focus was given to formerly incarcerated young Black men as they are at increased risk for school disengagement and recidivism following incarceration (Carson & Golinelli, 2013).

Methods: An alternative school in Los Angeles County that provides education and vocational training to formerly incarcerated youth served as the case site. Enrolled students (n=117) were mostly African American/Black (54%) and male (67%), aged 18.7 (on average), and 74% had been involved in some aspect of the justice system. Data collection consisted of 12 months of field observations (n=33), interviews with school personnel (n=4) and Black male students (n=8), one focus group with case managers (n=4), and a review of organizational documents, class handouts, and student work. Data analysis and interpretation consisted of a range of inductive techniques, including coding, constant comparison, and memoing (Charmaz, 2006; Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Merriam, 2009).

Results: Study findings reveal that offering arts-based activities throughout the school day and after school to foster a climate in the alternative school that allowed formerly incarcerated young Black men to build caring and supportive relationships with their peers and school personnel. Instructional practices that integrated music and poetry as part of the learning process also provided meaningful opportunities for the young Black men to participate. These approaches helped to enhance their attitudes (i.e., self, others, learning, school) and academic self-efficacy and problem-solving skills, which appeared to lessen their psychological and emotional distress.

Conclusions and Implications: Study findings provide insights regarding how the mechanisms within an arts-based program in an alternative school can support the healthy development and academic achievement of formerly incarcerated young Black men transitioning into adulthood. Directions for future research concerning resilience and the influence of alternative schools on young Black men’s post-incarceration academic success and well-being is posed.