LITTLE FALLS -- A Little Falls arts organization is developing a summer program for young people that its director says will "help them make the right choices in life."
Fittingly called Prevention and Education Through the Arts for Kids, the plan is modeled after the "40 building blocks to healthy communities" strategy developed by the Research Institute of Minneapolis and embraced by hundreds of towns and cities across the country.
"This new program is based upon recent research that has identified 40 assets that have a direct relationship to the positive social development of young people," said William Adkins, director of the Great River Arts Association, which is initiating the plan for Little Falls and several area communities.
"In other words, the more of these 40 assets our young fold have in their life, the less likely they are to become involved with violence, substance abuse, sexual activity and the more likely they are to succeed in school," he said. "The research also reveals that of these 40 assets, exposure to the arts is the asset most lacking in our children."
"It is a prevention program but we will emphasize that these are art activities and that they in themselves are a prevention activity. They are all about asset building, something that will give young people a skill in making positive life choices." -- William Adkins Great River Arts Association director
Still in the information-gathering phase, the plan -- PEAK, for short -- will offer a litany on arts-related classes this summer free of charge to children in Little Falls, Pierz, Randall, Royalton, Swanville and Upsala.
The courses will be taught by working artists -- writers, painters, sculptors, dancers and others -- who hail not only from the Little Falls area but from other states and countries as well, Adkins said.
The plan already has attracted the attention of several area benefactors, including Minnesota Power, which donated $10,000 to underwrite PEAK in its inaugural summer starting this June.
Adkins, who developed a similar program for several Indiana-Ohio border towns earlier in his career, is collecting feedback from arts activists, school administrators and community leaders in the six affected towns before finalizing the curriculum, he said.
Most of the courses will focus on instruction in a specific art discipline, but some -- called "focus activities" -- will be devoted specifically to social issues identified as targets by the participating towns, Adkins said.
"It is a prevention program but we will emphasize that these are art activities and that they in themselves are a prevention activity," he said. "They are all about asset building (a term coined by the Research Institute), something that will give young people a skill in making positive life choices.
"I am not going to be telling them not to do things, but I want to empower a child to make his or her own decisions," he said.
Adkins is recruiting volunteer committees in each of the six towns to assist GRAA in developing and maintaining PEAK. But the plan already has identified substance abuse, violence, teen pregnancy, peer pressure and others as potentially important social issues addressed by the program.
"Best of all, PEAK will be offered free to any child who wishes to participate and will give all of our children the tools they need to navigate a complex world," Adkins said.
A professional arts educator, Adkins joined the GRAA several months ago, succeeding the group's founder Sandy Johnson as director.
GRAA offers administrative and fund-raising support to other nonprofit arts-related organizations, including the Heartland Symphony. In recent years it has expanded its own list of sponsored activities, including a House Concerts series and a performing arts season.
Adkins said he expects PEAK enrollment to involve several hundred children from preschool to high school, at an annual cost of about $40,000.
Visiting professional artists will be provided a stipend and living expenses in return for their services, including apprenticeships with high school-aged participants.
He said PEAK will be one of the first arts-related prevention programs offered in rural America, although many other communities have adopted the Search Institute model using other assets among the institute's recommended list.
For more information about PEAK or to volunteer for the town-based committee, call Adkins at (320) 632-0960. To learn more about the Search Institute's 40-assets plan, consult the group's Web site at www.search-institute.org.
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