Celebrating National Arts in Education Week: A Reflection on Last Year’s Impact

The 2017 school year recently commenced for many of Austin’s youth, a time in which parents, teachers, and students alike have the chance for a “fresh start,” starting the new year with a clean slate and open mind, ready to learn and grow.

The beginning of a new school year is also a great time to reflect on achievements from the year prior, to reflect on the growth each student experienced and the foundation they laid for this year’s challenges and victories to come.

At Creative Action, we know a true measurement of “growth” requires a holistic view of a student’s advancement in a wide range of areas. While good grades may be the widely-accepted standard benchmark to measure a student’s progress, growth requires more than simply studying curriculum and passing tests.

This week, we celebrate National Arts in Education Week, taking place from September 10th to 15th, an opportune time to reflect on and restate our mission as well as share new results from our 2016-2017 school year programming.

Last year alone, Creative Action reached more than 21,000 youth and adults through 41,000 programming hours at more than 100 area locations.

Additionally, we remain as the largest provider of after school arts enrichment, in-school arts education programming, and arts-based professional development for classroom teachers in Central Texas, forging new pathways for positive youth development through large-scale, school district and city-wide partnerships that dramatically impact our community’s highest-needs populations.

41,000 hours of programming

Our programs aim to give students the skills they need to succeed not only academically, but in life, both now and in the future — and we are happy to report the proof is in the numbers.

Our programs are continuously rigorously evaluated to ensure we are always working toward our mission successfully, and the latest data shows Creative Action continues to make a positive difference in our students’ lives in the following ways: 

89% of Creative Action students develop critical thinking skills through our programming.
95% are more confident setting goals.
97% keep trying to solve a problem until they succeed.
93% stand up for people who are treated unfairly.
86% can better communicate their ideas after participating.

While we are proud of these outcomes, we are even more proud of our students, who have gained the confidence, creativity, compassion, and critical thinking skills to excel at whatever they will face in the years to come. 

Next week, we’ll dive into the impact of our individual programs. Stay tuned!

From Creative Action to Stanford University: A spotlight on Becky Gomez

The typical “American dream” for many of today’s youth still follows the traditional guidelines of the generations before them: work hard in school, get accepted into a good university, graduate with honors, and land a job with upward mobility opportunities.

But the traditional path isn’t always obviously within reach for every young adult, especially those growing up in low socioeconomic communities. While talented and intelligent students come from all kinds of backgrounds, low socioeconomic communities often lack the resources and support structures for students that their middle- and upper-class peers receive, such as tutoring, in-school and after school programming, and simply having role models to give guidance on navigating higher-education.

These students and their families not only have to search to find the additional academic support they need, but also often are missing out on the soft skills learned in expensive extracurricular programs that help young adults succeed in school, work, and life, such as teamwork, public speaking, creativity, and critical thinking. This is the very gap Creative Action seeks to address in our community, in-school, and after school programs.

Creative Action is proud to be part of the formula making it possible for students like Becky Gomez to acquire the social and emotional skills to take them as far as their minds can dream up — in this case, all the way to Stanford University.

Becky recently graduated high school, and during her time as a youth in Austin, participatedin a range of Creative Action programs. This fall, she is attending Stanford University on a full-ride scholarship, an especially impressive feat as the first person in her family to attend college.


Growing up in a low socioeconomic rural community, Becky had to work extra hard for everything she accomplished. She attributes part of her path to success to the social justice lessons and social and emotional skills she gained during her time as a Creative Action student.

“I learned the importance of values like social justice and how to be a good person,” Becky said. “It sounds vague, but when you listen to stories of others in a mural, film, play, or other piece of art, there is vulnerability and storytelling that really makes you look at the world in a different way. Today, I am a huge proponent of debating social issues, and I am confident I wouldn’t be involved if I hadn’t learned about the experiences of others while in Creative Action programming.”

As a quiet and reserved middle-school student, Becky first found her voice and passion for creative expression during a Creative Action film program in sixth grade.

“Creative Action helped me discover new ways of expressing myself,” Becky said. “Performing in front of an audience or camera let me interact with a lot more confidence that as a young student, I needed a lot. It also allowed me to open up a realm of possibilities artistically, such as discovering forms of expressing my creativity that I will now take with me to Stanford and in life. I learned a lot about not only film, but the diligence it takes to create, whether it be a movie or a physics project.”

She has since decided to study Civil Engineering and Art History at Stanford and has many things to look forward to in the coming years.

“I am most excited to grow as a person,” Becky said. “Most of the exposure I have had has been through programs like Creative Action, because my school was quite homogeneous ethnically and economically. It is thrilling to imagine meeting people from different backgrounds and with different stories than my own, because I think that is a huge part of what made Creative Action so special — the diversity.”

Becky’s journey to Stanford is one that a student from any socioeconomic background can appreciate and look up to. She says Creative Action not only encouraged her passion for art, which she will continue pursuing in college, but also  the social, emotional, and interpersonal tools she will need to continue chasing her dreams.

Our Outcomes: Creative Action’s 4C Students

There’s no denying the vast amount of research making the strong case that 21st Century Skills and social and emotional learning are critical when it comes to educating today’s youth. Due to the nature of our constantly-changing world, it’s not enough to teach children basic skills anymore – students need to learn how to harness creativity in a variety of ways that help them with critical thinking, problem-solving, relationship management, and decision-making, just to name a few essential skills.

At Creative Action, our vision is this: When youth develop their creativity, compassion, confidence, and critical thinking skills, and build meaningful connections with peers and positive role models, they become successful adults who contribute to their communities and thrive in their careers and relationships.

By using our specially-designed creative curriculum, which incorporates pedagogy, methodology and research from a variety of best practices in arts education, youth development, and education, we develop what we call “4C” students – Creative Artists, Courageous Allies, Critical Thinkers and Confident Leaders.

So what does it actually mean to be a 4C student? Here, we break down the skills our students develop after participating in our programs:

Critical Thinkers  

Critical Thinkers think through problems and find solutions. They are curious about the world and actively question and engage to understand diverse perspectives. They analyze text and media for greater understanding and reflect upon their experiences to learn.

Courageous Allies  

Courageous Allies recognize injustice, hate, and discrimination and decide to do something about it. They reach out to others and help everyone feel welcome. They empathize with others and believe all people have equal rights. They show respect for everyone.

Confident Leaders   

Confident Leaders understand when to lead and when to step back. They listen attentively to others and communication their ideas clearly. They set goals and help everyone achieve. They learn from their mistakes and build upon their successes.


Creative Artists   

Creative Artists experience a variety of art forms. They develop an appreciation of all different types of art. They can express their thoughts and feelings through creative projects and learn a multitude of artistic skills. They work on creative projects both together and on their own. They try new things and actively create their world.

DIY Rainbow Crystal Ribbons

Looking to fill some summer time with a quick and hassle-free art project made entirely from common household items? This project was one of many that campers try at our “Mad Lab” summer camp, and you and your child can easily make it happen by following the steps below!

Supplies, assemble!  You’ll need:

• Borax, a common multi-purpose household cleaner.

• Pipe cleaners—the more colorful, the better!

• A wide popsicle stick or tongue depressor

• A glass, jar, or vase. Any vessel that will hold water, really!

• Measuring spoons/cups

Next, arrange the pipe cleaners in a pattern that your child likes, so that they are flush against each other and there’s no separation. You can do a rainbow pattern like we do here, but feel free to experiment with other patterns!

Place the wide popsicle stick crosswise along the edge of the pipe cleaners, then fold them over.Make sure they’re firmly folded!

Manipulate the cleaners so that they form a cool wavy shape, being sure to keep them in place against the popsicle stick with your thumb.

In a teapot or electric kettle, heat 2 cups of water until nearly boiling. The hotter the water, the more saturated your solution will be. If your vessel wont hold this much water, that’s okay! Just adjust the measurements in proportion with the 6 T. of Borax.

*Note: If your vessel won’t hold that much water, that’s okay. Just adjust the amount of Borax you add accordingly!  E.g., 4.5 T Borax to 12oz of water. 

Once the water is ready, pour into the vessel. You will want to take over for this step!

Pour in 6 T. of Borax into the hot water. A little extra won’t hurt! 

Stir it up with a knife or spoon!

Gently dip your ribbon into the mixture so that the stick rests across the edges of the vessel.

Patience is, as ever, a virtue. Let it sit overnight or longer. As the water cools, the Borax particles will settle on the pipe cleaners, accumulating on one seed crystal and growing bigger in size and number as time passes!

When you’re ready, remove the ribbon! You’ll want to grip the ribbon right below the popsicle stick, as it will be a bit stuck to the edges or bottom of the vessel. Snip off  the ribbon (there will be likely a small portion that wasn’t submerged and it’s crystallized), and there you have it! This may look like rock candy, but it isn’t edible. Just admire your glistening crystalline creation!


Teaching Artist Spotlight: Liza

Liza Fishbone joined Creative Action last fall, teaching After School at Harris Elementary and IDEA Allen. Coming to Austin by way of St. Louis, she sought out a part-time TA position at Creative Action while working at Art Seen Alliance, a local event production and custom fabrication studio. Though she didn’t have much prior teaching experience, she understood the value of dedicated and encouraging arts mentors.

“The most influential teachers I had growing up were my art teachers, who taught me how to follow my own path and stay true to my work. I want to create a safe space for youth to experiment, explore and create.”

In the past, Liza’s professional work focused on satisfying clients and producers, and the shift to youth education proved eye-opening. “My students are constantly learning,” she explains. “They keep me grounded and have just exponentially expanded my space for empathy. I make it a priority to make sure they feel safe and supported, that they’re capable of anything, and to always remember that we’re learning.”

Liza’s Moon Puppies, who are “larger than life whimsical characters, who have traveled to Earth from the Land of Laughter, on a mission to spread joy, wonder, and sweet dance moves.”

Outside of Creative Action, Liza’s passion projects have in the past “focused on spreading positivity, joy, and wonder.” Her “Moon Puppies” project is made up of 7-foot tall ‘wiggly-giggly’ alien costumes and interactive playspaces, where participants are invited to tap into their childlike sense of wonder and playful interaction. “People react like it’s a form of therapy. To experience a moment of complete absurdity can be such a necessary release.”


Liza at work on her national mural project, “Walls Are For Painting, Not People”

Liza’s currently focused on more grounded, socially-conscious projects, like her current work titled “Walls Are For Painting, Not People.” This collaborative, cross-timezone mural digitally stitches together painted letters of the aforementioned title from artists in Austin, San Francisco, Boston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Asheville, and kicked off on the day of the “No Ban, No Wall” rally at the Texas State Capitol. “By collaborating with artists in different cities, we’re building connections as opposed to barriers.”

The guiding ethic behind “Walls Are For Painting, Not People” will continue to fuel Liza’s future creative endeavors. She considers herself an art warrior—someone who uses their artistic voice to speak truth.

“People connect with realness. I believe as artists, it is our job to share that with the world. Because we’re also storytellers, historians, commentators, and keepers of culture. If we don’t have art, we have nothing.”