Local programs and organizations provide top-notch educational opportunities and support for kids and families.
Experience history and spark conversation through art
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art opens two new exhibitions in mid-February that meld art and history.
Art and Activism at Tougaloo College tells the story of the first modern art collection in Mississippi, housed at the Historically Black College. The collection was acquired for the college by leaders of the New York art world, beginning with pieces by well-known artists like Pablo Picasso. As the students became more involved, they requested works by Black American artists, leading to a collection featuring works by artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Alma Thomas and Romare Bearden. This program came to light as civil rights protests swirled across the fiercely segregated state and Black students weren’t allowed in other museums.
“Students wanted to see paintings that looked like them,” said Dr. Bryn Schockmel, coordinating curator for Art and Activism. “It might seem small but it made a huge difference to the students.”
Alongside the art, visitors will find a timeline of civil rights events happening simultaneously. In addition to appreciating the vibrant and varied works of art, visitors will gain insight into the intersections of modern art and social justice. Schockmel hopes student visitors will see how art can be used to convey emotions and incite positive change.
Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice is a 1940s-era series of paintings by William H. Johnson created as a tribute to Black activists, scientists, teachers and performers, as well as heads of state working to bring peace to the world. Coming from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the works feature both famous historical figures, like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as lesser-known individuals.
Using bright colors and an almost cartoon-like style, Johnson’s work will be especially appealing to young visitors as the scene around each individual represents the story of their lives.
OKCMOA will provide four touchable versions of the artworks for visitors who are blind or low vision or those looking to have a more sensory-rich experience with art.
Both exhibitions will run Feb. 18 through May 14. Schools can take advantage of free field trips, either in person or virtually, as well as reimbursement for bussing and substitute teachers. Find more information at okcmoa.com.
OKCPS students pilot new film production program
During the 2022-2023 school year, two high schools within Oklahoma City Public Schools have been participating in a new film production course providing students the opportunity to learn and experience the critical role film production plays in the making of movies, TV shows, documentaries and other content.
Named Scissortail Studios, the course was developed in partnership with Film Education Institute of Oklahoma (FEIO), a local nonprofit with a mission to help train and develop local film production personnel to meet the demand for jobs brought to Oklahoma. After piloting the program this school year at Northwest Classen High School and Frederick Douglass High School, the district hopes to provide the program at all of their high schools beginning in August 2023.
Classroom curriculum is taught by OKCPS and FEIO instructors, and both a permanent and mobile film lab with state-of-the-art equipment for producing film are available to students. The mobile lab visits various school sites, school events and community activities.
“With each year of this new program, students will gain valuable knowledge and experience, positioning them for job and career opportunities in one of Oklahoma’s fastest-growing business sectors,” said OKCPS Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel. “We are excited to help unlock new opportunities for our kids while helping Oklahoma strengthen its position in this fast-emerging industry.”
McKnight Center provides free arts education experiences for students
Since the McKnight Center for the Performing Arts opened in Stillwater in 2019, one of the nonprofit organization’s goals has been to increase arts exposure for students in the area. Every student in Stillwater Public Schools will have the opportunity to enjoy a production, for free, every year, says Darin Williams, director of education and community engagement.
In 2022, students were bussed to the center to experience performances of the Broadway touring show STOMP and dance company Pilobus. Third, fourth and fifth grade students participate in LinkUp, a partnership between the center, Carnegie Hall and the Enid Symphony. Curriculum covering a variety of music genres, involving dance and movement and even teaching students how to play instruments is provided to music teachers, and the program culminates with students performing with the symphony at the center.
While every student who visits the McKnight Center may not pursue the arts as a career or hobby, Williams hopes they all walk away with a new appreciation for how art can make a positive impact on their lives and the community.
“If kids in these experiences strive to become an artist, that’s great,” said Williams. “Or if there are future CEOs in the seats who will have a heart to support nonprofits like us, that’s great. But if the vast majority can simply find joy or see art as a way to self-soothe, that’s even better.”
Williams hopes to eventually expand the program’s reach to homeschool students and public schools throughout Payne County and beyond. Learn more about programs and the center’s family series at mcknightcenter.org.
Moore students helping students through the Bridges program
The number of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness in Moore Public Schools has increased 325 percent, reports the Moore Public Schools Foundation. In the 2021-2022 school year, there were 34 identified unaccompanied youth in Moore Public Schools, and likely there are more who opted not to self-identify. Students experiencing homelessness are 87 percent more likely to drop out of school than their stably housed peers and are at greater risk for assault, suicide and addiction.
Moore Public Schools, Moore Public Schools Foundation and nonprofit organization Bridges, Inc. are working together to address housing and other needs for these students through the creation of Bridges Moore.
The organization provides ongoing support for unaccompanied youth to remove barriers to high school graduation and help set goals beyond high school. Services are currently provided at the Bridges Norman site, plus an MPS liaison connects students with resources like food, clothing, utility assistance and transportation.
In early 2023, Bridges Moore will build 20 individual housing units behind Skyranch Elementary School. Unaccompanied students will live in the homes independently but have full-time staff support.
“They will act as an educational parent, making sure they are getting up and going to school, completing projects or catching up if they are behind,” said Clayton Ramick, executive director of Moore Public Schools Foundation. “They will help ensure they graduate but also have a plan for the future and help transition into their next housing, whether that’s a dorm at college, an apartment or applying for government housing.”
Bridges Moore must raise $2.5 million to fund the project. Their largest donation to date, $300,000, came from Moore high schools and their feeder elementary and junior high school students through the annual Moore Love fundraising campaign.
For information about how you can help, visit mooreschoolsfoundation.org/bridges.
Boys & Girls Club opens first permanent club in Northeast OKC
The Boys & Girls Club of Oklahoma County is responding in major ways to the needs of our community to serve more children and families. The nonprofit organization provides after-school and school break care that inspires and enables youth to reach their full potential by encouraging academic success, good character and healthy lifestyles. Evidence-based programs encourage fun and build leadership, self-esteem and teamwork.
In addition to receiving nutritious snacks and homework help, students get access to a wide variety of activities, from sports and STEM to theatre and music. Families pay just $5 per semester per student, with scholarships available.
Eighteen months ago, the organization was operating six clubs in the county — now they have 18 as a direct response to community members’ requests for more services. The majority of the clubs are operated within or in partnership with local schools, and others, like the flagship Memorial Park Club, are permanent locations.
While the organization has served youth in Northeast OKC for more than 20 years, students have often had to be bussed to a location outside of their community. President & CEO Teena Belcik says it’s always been a goal to serve students where they live to provide consistency and connection.
Joining forces with Restore OKC, the two nonprofits purchased and renovated a Northeast OKC permanent club location. Fields and Futures helped provide outdoor spaces, including sports fields and courts, a walking trail and playground.
Inside the center, a partnership with Best Buy and Jasco powers the only Best Buy Teen Tech Center in Oklahoma. With everyday access to a recording studio, programmable sewing machines, virtual reality programs, drones and a variety of computers and 3D printers, students can explore interests and careers in STEM, technology, fashion design, video, film, music and more.
Eventually, Boys & Girls Club hopes to make the Best Buy Teen Tech Center available to students from other clubs and to the community at large.
Learn how to become a volunteer or supporter of Boys & Girls Club, or how to sign your child up to participate, at bgcokc.org.
New nature school inspires wonder in students
Back to Earth School launched their first school year in the fall of 2022. Considered a homeschool hybrid school, the school currently serves a class of first and second graders on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with many students participating in homeschool or virtual school programs on the off days.
In addition to teaching reading, writing and math, students enjoy plenty of unstructured time outdoors, in addition to yoga, movement, singing, art and handwork like knitting and crocheting. Wide open outdoor space, a wooded area and simple, natural elements encourage kids to be imaginative in their play.
“Kids discover all kinds of little things in the natural world that spark a sense of wonder in them,” said founder Carlie Khodabakhsh. “That sense of being grounded and peace you find when you are in nature are important for mental health.”
The school’s teachers are trained in Waldorf Education, which offers an experiential, academically rigorous approach that integrates arts across subjects and aims to inspire life-long learning. Instead of trying to fit many subjects into each day, block scheduling allows students to intensely study a topic for 3 to 5 weeks before moving on. With small class sizes and a flexible schedule and curriculum, teachers are free to foster the specific interests and needs of each child.
Back to Earth School offers 8-week Forest School classes for ages 4 to 6, during which students focus on engaging with the natural world. Weekly parent-child classes are offered for ages 0 to 3. New in 2023, the school will be offering a 3-day kindergarten program for ages 4 to 6. Classes take enrollment throughout the year. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Mid-Del Public Schools launches program to address period poverty
In late 2022, the Midwest City-Del City Public Schools Foundation launched a groundbreaking program for addressing period poverty in the district. In partnership with SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital – Midwest and Aunt Flow, a nationwide purveyor of period products, each of the district’s elementary, middle and high schools received dispensers providing free period products. High-quality, sustainably made period products are available in 207 dispensers across the district, free to all students and teachers, regardless of income or need.
This program is the first in Oklahoma and one of the first in the nation. Period poverty is the condition of being disadvantaged due to menstruation and is most often experienced by individuals under financial constraints. Lack of access to adequate pads or tampons can lead to students missing class, staying home from school and falling behind academically.
“Period poverty is one of those problems that people tend to think of as happening in other times and places – if they are aware of it at all,” said Lindse Barks, director of the Midwest City-Del City Public School Foundation. “Unfortunately, period poverty is very real for today’s Oklahoma students, and we believe this partnership will go a long way to help address it. Additionally, we hope this will help start a dialogue not only in our schools but in our community and the state as a whole, so we may all better understand and confront the inequities brought about by period poverty.”
Experience nationally-renowned exhibit about the Holocaust in OKC
Families have the unique opportunity to experience the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, right here in Oklahoma City. In partnership with the Metropolitan Library System, the Smithsonian exhibit Americans and the Holocaust will be on display at the downtown library through the first week of February.
Best suited for tweens and older, the traveling exhibit challenges the commonly held assumption that Americans knew and did little about the Nazi persecution and murder of Jewish people as the Holocaust unfolded. The exhibit addresses Americans’ response to refugees, war and genocide in the 1930s and 40s through stories of individuals and groups who took action in response to Nazism.
Visitors will be encouraged to consider the responsibilities and obstacles faced by individuals in history — from the president to ordinary Americans — and ask themselves not only “What would I have done?” but also “What will I do?”
Programming and take-home kits related to the exhibit will be offered at libraries throughout the metro. Learn more and find a library near you at metrolibrary.org.
Sample STEAM-focused programming — on wheels!
Pioneer Library System’s Maker Mobile is a super STEAM-based workshop on wheels! Taking STEAM-focused programming out into the community, the Maker Mobile features 3D printers, a digital scanner, a CNC mill, laser cutters, computers, STEAM kits and “maker” books.
With broadband internet access, the mobile tech center can connect to the internet from any location. The vehicle generates its own power, so all the onboard technologies and equipment can operate even in remote locations. A drop-down stage, wheelchair lift, retractable awning and lighting system provide accessibility and expanded opportunities to enjoy the center for a wide variety of audiences and events. The Maker Mobile includes a dedicated PLS maker staff person to help guests learn how to use the technology and to work on a project of their choice.
The Maker Mobile is available for use by schools, programs in PLS libraries, community events and special audiences and individuals. Schedule a time to experience the Maker Mobile or find out when it will be near you by emailing MakerMobile@pioneerlibrarysystem.org or calling 405-801-4570.