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Students in LA continuation schools say art is helping them graduate

Along with cramming for finals, students from 27 continuation high schools have been busy for the past several days putting the final touches on art projects for display at cultural institutions around town. A tour of the courtyard at L.A. Central Library Thursday, found a sculpture commenting on body image, a screen print depicting racial profiling and a painting taking on women’s rights.

It’s the culmination of a program called artworxLA, which uses art to help students stay in school in a city with one of the highest high school dropout rates in the nation.

"It makes you actually want to show up to school," said Luis Alfaro, 19, who attends Saito High School, a charter continuation in the Pico-Union neighborhood. "Some kids don’t even have the enthusiasm to get up in the morning and go to school."

Students at his school were offered screen printing and music classes and produced work on the theme of civic engagement. Alfaro spent 10 weeks in a music production class and produced a hip hop song, which includes the line: Yeah I got all my credits, knowledge is the tool.

He's one of 600 high school students that artworxLA serves each year at 27 alternative school sites – which offer flexible schedules and small class sizes – in L.A. County. Since it was founded 25 years ago, it's reached more than 12,000 students.

Raul Gomez,
Priska Neely/KPCC
Raul Gomez,

This year the group worked with Los Angeles Conservancy, the Skirball Cultural Center, as well as the library, to develop themes that the students studied in class and explore through various arts disciplines. At the end of the course, the student art is presented back to cultural institutions. 

"These presentations are more than a field trip to see somebody else's work presented," said Cynthia Campoy Brophy, the founder of artworxLA. "The institutions basically are saying we value your voice, your opinions on these themes we present and we’re sharing them with the public."

At the library Thursday, dozens of students gave presentations about the pieces they created and the messages they wanted to get across. 

"The reason the library was chosen as the partnering organization for this particular theme -- civic engagement, democracy in action -- is because that’s what the library does," senior librarian Mary McCoy told students.

"We are not just about books we are about providing you with all you need to be more engaged and involved people in your communities."