First Lady Michelle Obama To Recognize Michigan Creative Youth Development Program At White House

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12 U.S. programs, including two Michigan organizations - West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology and Sphinx Organization will receive awards

Keloni Seawood-Walton

Having the chance to represent my peers in accepting this award from the First Lady of the United States in the White House is an experience that I’ll never forget.

For the eighth and final time, First Lady Michelle Obama will invite the 12 winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award to the White House on November 15th, to recognize their programs’ effectiveness in developing young people’s learning and life skills by engaging them in the arts or humanities. Among the 12 awardees are two organizations from Michigan – West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) and Sphinx Organization.

The two Michigan community-based organizations from across the country were chosen from a pool of 251 nominations and 50 finalists to receive the highest honor awarded to such programs in the United States.

The awardees will be recognized by Mrs. Obama for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to generate a wide range of positive outcomes, including increases in academic achievement; growth in graduation and college enrollment rates; and improvements in literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.

First Lady Michelle Obama will recognize WMCAT for its Teen Arts + Tech Program, which is a best practice, out-of-school time experience that engages high school students in the practical application of design thinking through hands-on learning in arts and tech labs.

Media interested in covering the event must RSVP by sending an e-mail to firstladypress(at)who(dot)eop(dot)gov between Thursday, November 10 at 5 pm EST and Monday, November 14, at 5:00 PM EST . Members of the press who do not have a White House hard pass must include their name, Social Security number, date of birth, country of citizenship, current city/state of residence, and gender. Please “cc:” iroman(at)metgroup(dot)com on this e-mail request. A watch party will be held locally at West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology, 98 Fulton St. E. #202, Grand Rapids, MI, 49503 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. EST with multiple students on hand for interviews.

West Michigan’s, Keloni Seawood-Walton,17, will be at the White House tomorrow to receive the award from First Lady Michelle Obama on behalf of the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology. The organization received the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor for its Teen Arts + Tech Program which is a best practice, out-of-school time experience that engages high school students in the practical application of design thinking through hands-on learning in arts and tech labs.

“Having the chance to represent my peers in accepting this award from the First Lady of the United States in the White House is an experience that I’ll never forget,” said Keloni Seawood-Walton, WMCAT student. “It showed me that the power of programs like WMCAT’s to change kids’ lives is recognized and valued.”

The award recognizes the country’s best after-school and out-of-school-time creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment.

“These amazing programs prove how effective creative youth development can be in changing lives and communities,” said Megan Beyer, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “They’re improving academic achievement and contributing to high school graduation rates, and they’re providing the opportunity for young people to build the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in school and in life.”

Since 2005 the WMCAT Teen Arts + Tech Program has engaged more than 2,000 high school students in studio experiences in fine arts, technology and design. Our impact is illustrated through 95 percent of WMCAT teen students graduating high school on time with 85 percent being accepted to college. This past year 90 percent of teen students said WMCAT makes them believe they can be successful in college and career.

The Teen Arts + Tech Program at WMCAT is grounded in design thinking and project based learning. In partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, WMCAT has empowered teens through learning studios such as Photography, Ceramics, and Leadership by Design. WMCAT encourages teens to elevate their voice and affect social change by applying their skills learned in the programs. In its 11th year of programming WMCAT has helped over 2,000 teens to achieve both academic and personal success.

“Receiving the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award greatly expands our ability to share the incredible work and contributions of our teen students and our professional teaching artists. We are on a national stage with amazing programs from around the country! Now we have the chance to share the benefits of creative youth development, how working in WMCAT’s studios is expanding opportunity for teens in Grand Rapids, and how our community can support this kind of innovative and exciting work,” stated Daniel Williams, Executive Director of WMCAT, who was also present at the White House today to accept the award.

First presented in 1998, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the signature program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The awards are presented annually in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Seawood-Walton became a part of WMCAT while attending Grand Rapids Montessori School and graduated in spring 2016. She now is working part time as an apprentice at WMCAT’s Ambrose Print Shop while attending Grand Rapids Community College. During her time at WMCAT Seawood-Walton attended and was inspired by Photography and Fashion studios. Her work in the fashion design studio was part of a community fashion show that addressed bullying and stereotypes.

The Teen Art + Tech Program applies the Design Thinking Process of Discover, Ideate, Experiment, Create, Refine, and Share in their projects. WMCAT’s leadership team deepened its connection with Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design by attending several design thinking intensives and coaching fellowships. These types of intentional programmatic decisions allowed WMCAT to better make long lasting and meaningful connections with students. Each student in 2015 was provided with 120 direct studio hours throughout the school year. Students are taught by exceptional nonprofit professionals and teaching artists that are vested in professional development while supporting each student’s needs.

In addition to the national recognition bestowed by receipt of the prestigious award, WMCAT will also receive $10,000 to support its programming and engage more young people from the community.

Nancy Hickey, chair of the WMCAT Board of Directors stated, “This recognition on a national level is so meaningful to WMCAT and our students. It is reflective of the incredible creativity, curiosity and talent of our teens and their teaching artists. We are grateful to be honored by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and to contribute to best practices in creative youth development.”

The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the nation’s highest honor for after-school arts and humanities programs. The award recognizes and supports outstanding programs that lay new pathways to creativity, expression, and achievement outside of the regular school day. These programs excite and engage a range of students, cultivating imagination, collaboration, discipline, and academic success—with demonstrable results. They also provide safe harbors after school, on weekends, and during the evenings for children and youth in some of our country’s most at-risk urban and rural settings.

Created in 1982 by Executive Order, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) is an advisory committee to the White House on cultural issues. The PCAH works directly with the administration and the three primary cultural agencies—the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)—as well as with other federal partners and the private sector, to address policy questions in the arts and humanities, to initiate and support key programs in those disciplines, and to recognize excellence in the field. Its core areas of focus are arts and humanities education, cultural exchange, and community revitalization. Mrs. Obama, like other first ladies before her, serves as Honorary Chairman of the committee, which comprises both private and public members.

For more information about WMCAT please visit wmcat.org. For more information about the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, visit http://www.pcah.gov.

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Kim Bode
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