Circle Round the School, Paper Circle's intensive summer-arts enrichment program for children in the Nelsonville York City School District (NYCS) serves at-risk youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. According to The State of Poverty in Ohio 2007, NYCS ranks 603 poorest of 612 in the state; nearly 60% of the children and their families in this district live below the national poverty level. Many go hungry.
Inside this once-abandoned Appalachian coal mining town, the schools also suffer. NYCS lacks the resources to include art classes in their elementary and middle school curriculum. Only recently has art been offered as an elective at the high school. Imagine a child 15 years old who has never painted or played with clay. Outside school, art is a luxury our families can’t afford, when food itself is scarce.
To further exacerbate the cultural divide, six years ago abandoned storefronts, low rents and a high aesthetic attracted artists who opened some 20 shops galleries and studios on the historic town square. Though some residents and businesses welcomed the artists, others were alienated. It was simple economics. As galleries and studios replaced empty storefronts, families who lacked experience and means were being pushed even further to the fringes.
This presented Paper Circle with a unique challenge - and responsibility - as part of the burgeoning arts community, to find a way to provide equal access to the arts for all community members, especially the underserved students in the district. In possession of tremendous imagination, spirit and untapped capability, it was and is our intent to provide these children with enrichment opportunities to help them to achieve their fullest potential.
In 2004, Paper Circle elicited support from The Epstein-Teicher Philanthropy, The Sisters of Saint Joseph Charitable Fund, The Ohio Dept. of Development, The Ohio Arts Council, Rocky Boots, along with too-numerous-to-mention additional in-kind donors. Partnering with The Nelsonville-York City Schools, Athens County Children's Services, The Nelsonville Public Library, local businesses and community members, artist/teachers, Hocking College, The Coffee Cup Restaurant, The First Presbyterian Church, Dominoes Pizza, and community volunteers also too numerous to mention, in July of 2005 Paper Circle's summer youth arts initiative, Circle Round the Square, was launched.
In 2009, in partnership with The Neslonville York City Schools, our program was held in the school during their Summer Academy. The school provided bussing, meals, space and administrative assistance. In this Circle Round the School was launched. Seventy children, who would otherwise be without art education, enjoyed the benefits of our program under the safety net of the school. We divided the studios into collaborative (film, theater and cooking) studios and individual expression studios (ceramics, painting, collage and typography.) The day was divided by an hour of lunch and physical education activities. On July 17 a theater performance, film viewing and food display was presented in the school to over 175 family members and peers. On July 31 an art opening at Stuart's Opera House was held, dipslaying the works created in the individual studios. Coinciding with the July Final Friday art walk, over 600 family members and regional guests were in attendance.
Peirs Harris II Self concept tests were administered. The results were consistent with past years. Over half the participants enjoyed a measurable rise in self esteem. Visual arts classes were taught to Ohio Visual Arts Standards. By the program end, particiapants recieved an effective semester's worth of art education.