Last year, St. Louis Public Schools cut funding for a dedicated art teacher at Griscom Public School, an alternative school serving grades 5-12 located in the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC), citing too few students (approximately 30) impacted to warrant a full-time position. 

The school's arts program has two goals: keep the youth engaged during their stay at JDC and expose them to new experiences. 

"We like the youth to have something they can connect with when they leave here if they're interested," says Ellen Goldwasser, JDC detention program coordinator. "The hope is to build their confidence and think about things they haven't before."

Thanks to a grant from the Arts and Education Council's Maritz Arts and Education Fund, Griscom Public School was able to partner with Craft Alliance (an A&E grantee) to bring teaching artist Maxine du Maine into the classroom twice a week in spring 2017. Du Maine cites her personal background as one of the reasons she was so eager to teach the class.

"I jumped at the chance to teach at JDC," she says. "I grew up on the West side of St. Louis [...] so I always had a passion for reaching kids who grew up in a similar fashion just to be an influence."

Du Maine designed an illustrated story project where each student chose a story about thier lives to share and then paired off into teams of writer and illustrator. She began the project with an introduction to the basic elements of a story.

"I told them we don't determine our beginning. We don't know what setting we live in or what characters we'll be surrounded by, but it's the decisions we make in the middle that determine our end. Something we can think about for their story but their lives as well."

Even with just six weeks in the program, du Maine had already noticed changes in the students as they opened up to her and the project.

"The more we exchange life experiences and they can see how similar we are, the more they tend to open up," she says. "I have a long list of playlist of music I'm supposed to be looking up," she jokes.

At the end of class, the students were asking for more time to work on their projects. Surely, that's one measure of success.

For more information about the Maritz Arts and Education Fund, click here. To read more about Makers of St. Louis like Maxine, click here.