Academic achievement scores for minority and low-income students at Columbia Public Schools lag way behind their peers. In addition to being minorities, most of the children that attend Jabberwocky Studios programming are usually very low income, plus they have the barriers of language and culture. But these kids have so much to contribute to our community and we have so much we can contribute to enriching their lives and so this program is an effort to try to make that connection.
Linda Schust, Executive Director of Jabberwocky Studios
We recently caught up with Linda Schust, the Executive Director of Jabberwocky Studios. Jabberwocky Studios runs seasonal programs that offer a variety of arts-based activities in the Columbia area with a focus on serving minority and refugee children. Dance instruction, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) classes, and neighborhood arts activities through The Art Bus are just a few of the programs. In our conversation, Linda specifically talked about the STEAM Program and The Art Bus, the two programs funded in part by Heart of Missouri United Way.
So first, tell us about the STEAM Program.
The STEAM program has evolved and expanded over the years since we received the grant from United Way. We serve more kids now. The programs run on Saturdays and usually lasts about four hours. We cover 5-to-6-week units and incorporate all different strands of STEAM. Each unit has a specific challenge for the kids to accomplish. We also feed the kids, usually twice, and we try to feed them healthy foods that are things that they could make for themselves. We also introduce them to foods from different cultures, including American culture. Ultimately, it’s not really just about the formal STEAM program, but we try to support and serve them in many ways while we have them there with us.
Can you share an example of an educational unit or weeks-long lesson that you all have done?
The last unit we did was a unit on connections, and we focused on ways people are connected in a city. We asked, “How are people actually physically connected to each other?” Well, they live in buildings that are near each other, or they’re connected by roads. They’re connected by the electric grid. They’re connected by water. People are also connected through social media and other forms of media. They’re connected through art. By the end of the unit, the kids had each built a “city.” We had a person who was studying urban planning come in and talk to them about making a walkable city or a Green City, and so they arranged their city that way. We had a number of other things they did to grow and develop their city. So, that’s an example of a unit where we try to bring all the different strands together.
What do you hope the kids who are part of the STEAM program take away from their experience?
I hope that they learn confidence in themselves. I hope that they learn perseverance. I hope our programs build confidence, and the idea that even if you don’t think you’re going to get it, you have to keep trying. We also try to introduce them to adults in the community or older peers to try to build some social connections for them, because I think that’s one of the ways they don’t have equity with other more affluent, or people who are born here is that they don’t have a community of people that they can go to when they need something. And then, of course, I hope they learn study skills and keep those relationships that they built through the program, with their peers as well.
Now tell us a little bit about The Art Bus.
The Art Bus is an attempt to basically remove pretty much every barrier to arts access for kids. We take a bus to 3 locations every Saturday. It runs for 36 weeks, and we choose locations that are often near public housing. We go there with the bus, set up tables outside, and then go around and knock on doors in the neighborhoods and invite people to come to the bus. We have rotating staff of like 5 different instructors and they facilitate a different art project each time, oftentimes using different media. The kids sit at the tables; they take their time; they do their project. Sometimes if they get done and they still want to hang out then the bus driver will do relay races with them and all kinds of stuff to just keep them there doing things. We’ve had people between the ages of 3 and 30 come to the bus.
How does United Way’s support impact the programs you all are doing?
Without the financial support from the United Way these programs just couldn’t exist. On top of that, United Way has provided so many opportunities to meet and talk with people in other organizations that serve the same population that we serve. Making connections is helpful to us as an organization, but I think it’s also enormously helpful to the populations that we serve–that people in different organizations are supporting them in different ways and kind of know each other.
The other thing I can say about the United Way is that I’ve always enjoyed working with all the people that I interact with at United Way. The people always bend over backwards to be supportive. I really appreciate the fact that they give us the support that they do, and that they’ve invested in us in the committed way they have.
Through The STEAM Program and The Art Bus, Jabberwocky Studios aims to remove all barriers to arts access for kids in the Columbia area. United Way is committed to this mission, and by partnering with us, you too can contribute to making arts-based programming accessible to all children in Columbia. As Linda, the Executive Director of Jabberwocky Studios, shared:
“The goal of Jabberwocky Studios programs, especially the ones that are funded by Heart of Missouri United Way, is to remove barriers . . . The longer we have been around we have come to understand more about what the barriers are for full inclusion, not only in the arts, but in and among all barriers.”