Gene Furchgott recently walked away from a fifth-grade classroom at Mitchell Math and Science Elementary feeling exhilarated. He had just watched a student share his final filmmaking project on the USS Yorktown. To Furchgott, the presentation reinforced the whole purpose—and success—of Yo Art!, the nonprofit he founded 10 years ago that teaches technology-driven media arts to students at local Title 1 schools. Not only had the student learned new filmmaking skills and some World War II history, he’d also mastered the iMovie editing software.
“When I go to the classrooms and see that the kids are engaged, lessons are being reinforced, and kids are being creative with technology, I know Yo Art! is a success,” says Furchgott.
Having begun as a small after-school program, Yo Art! today offers classes at 10 public elementary and middle schools in the area, such as Memminger Elementary and Jerry Zucker Middle. Classes vary from film and video editing and fashion design to Photoshop and coding, taught by local professionals and adjunct professors.
Yo Art!’s benefits go beyond creatively inspiring youngsters. Many of its students come from low-income families, and the cutting-edge media arts tools they’re using (like iMovie and Digital Fashion Pro) are often ones they’ve never encountered. What’s more, the program’s finely tuned lesson plans fit in nicely with curriculums. “Classes are integrated into the schools’ core standards and are meant to be impactful for test scores,” Furchgott explains.
Lori Holbrook, who oversees the science programs at Mitchell Math and Science, is just as enthusiastic, noting that Yo Art!’s photography students “take a lot of pride in showing the class the presentations they create. It’s a great way to get them to take ownership of their work.”
Furchgott sees big things for Yo Art!’s future. Currently, he’s working on partnering with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization to allow students to continue honing their skills once they reach high school (a teen showing particular interest in photography, for example, could be matched with a pro photographer as a mentor). “We don’t want to drop the ball on helping these kids develop new skills,” he says.