Teen Interns: Bringing Visual Arts to New Audiences

In the spring, high school students participating in our Teen Apprenticeship Program (TAP) work as apprentices under professional artists, honing their art skills and learning the fundamentals of teaching children before becoming teacher-interns to students from grades K–5 enrolled in community-based summer art programs. In 2020, due to the pandemic, TAP teens spent their internship teaching online—leading painting, drawing, and collage classes on Zoom. In addition, they created an online library of 70 art lesson videos that are accessible to children everywhere. (See them here.)

TAP Team of Ten: (top, L to R) Shishawna, Oscar, Emily, Miguel, Kelsey; (bottom) Hannah, Lizbeth, Kenith, Charmaine, Cassandra

Based on their success and readiness to take on additional responsibilities, a group of ten teens was selected to continue teaching through this school year, allowing them the opportunity to refine their skills and understanding of art instruction.

In January 2021, the intrepid “Team of Ten” began applying these skills, teaching monthly Saturday art classes to children on Zoom. (Register for upcoming classes here.)

To broaden our reach to students in other metropolitan areas, Studio Institute formed a partnership with Family First in Education, a Connecticut-based after-school program. The Team is currently facilitating an after-school art residency for Family First sites in two elementary schools.

Emily leads a collage class at a Family First Workshop in Connecticut.

The interns fully plan and deliver the lessons with minimal guidance from the program manager and assistant artist instructor. In April, they hosted an online family art-making workshop for 37 families.

It’s been rewarding to watch these fantastic teens flourish through sustained engagement in planning and teaching art to younger students. The teens have also produced videos for our online library. The ten interns will assist in training the new apprentice cohort, providing peer-to-peer feedback and coaching apprentices on writing and teaching lessons, demonstrating art skills, and engaging young online audiences.

Recently, we spoke with Team of Ten teens about their experiences this past year. Several noted that the new skills they’ve gained aren’t just limited to art and instruction. Charmaine, from the High School of Fashion Industries, has noticed that her communication, problem-solving, and quick-thinking skills have improved. “Those skills are important for any job in any field,” she said. “This experience will translate well.”

“My experience here has taught me a lot about simply learning from others,” Kenith, a senior at Brooklyn Latin High School, said.

The teens’ teaching experience has not been without its challenges. Interns noted that it can be more difficult to reach or connect with students in an online environment, and technology issues are inevitable given the setting. Undaunted, Hannah, a senior at Urban Academy for Health Sciences, said, “You have to be patient and understand that technology isn’t perfect.”

The experience with TAP has led several of the interns to reconsider their career aspirations. For some, it was their first work experience. Others have never tackled jobs that were simultaneously so exciting, challenging, and rewarding. “I’m not the best at art,” Charmaine told us, “but I love doing it for fun and being able to connect with kids; this experience has helped me rethink my career choices.” Now she’s considering the education field. “I want to be the person who makes kids engaged in the class.”

Oscar, a senior at Central Park East High School, has always envisioned himself pursuing a career in art but didn’t have a clear idea about his specific niche before TAP. “TAP helped me realize what I specifically wanted to do with art,” he said. Instead of fine arts, he’s considering multimedia and electronic design. He’s also identified the college he’d like to attend and what majors interest him.

A senior at Pelham Preparatory Academy, Shishawna has learned a lot from the program, including knowing that her teammates will support her when she makes mistakes. She’s always wanted to be a psychologist, and now she’s thinking about what it would be like to work with young children in her practice.

Miguel demonstrations drawing from observation during an online art lesson.

Ultimately, what made TAP so meaningful to the interns were the connections they’ve developed with younger students. They agreed that this aspect is one of the best parts of the internship. “It’s really amazing to think about being part of someone’s first art experience,” Oscar told us.

“It’s inspiring that we’ve made such an impact on kids,” Charmaine said. She shared a “proud teacher moment,” in which one student showed her a self-portrait that she had created using techniques Charmaine had taught her.

Kelsey, a senior at Millennium High School, told a similar story. “There’s a regular student who said: ‘I remember that from last class,’ and she ended up almost trying to teach me, which helped her solidify her own understanding. I was very happy.”

In addition to teaching monthly classes, our amazing Team of Ten is now mentoring the 2021 class of new TAP apprentices, providing peer-to-peer feedback and coaching them on how to teach and engage students on camera. This month, the two teams will teach together, side by side, during practice teaching sessions.

On June 12, the Team will be presenting “On Our Screens: Creativity During the Pandemic” at the Intrepid Museum’s 2nd Annual Virtual Youth Summit, where they will describe how they used art to make connections, encourage creativity, and build skills throughout the pandemic. For more information or to register for the event, click here).

Don’t miss their final live Zoom classes in May and June 2021. We congratulate them all for a job well done!