By: D’Havian Scott
This week I interviewed Yes Network’s Art Program Leader Raychel Virnig. Raychel is a 2019 graduate of the College of Saint Benedict and is an Art Teacher at Little Falls Highschool. She has been with the Yes Network since her sophomore year in college and currently serves as Art Director, where she oversees a team of five individuals responsible for art, music, stem, and dance.
The Yes Network’s Art Program began in the spring/summer of 2017. Raychel shared that before the art program was instituted, kids had access to food and other fun activities such as games, but those did not pique everyone’s interest. However, by incorporating the art program into the Yes Network’s community outreach, it has given children more variety, “so that more kids could feel involved plus art is such a great way to connect and give kids different outcomes.”
In previous summers, the art program paired a learning outcome with an activity to ensure that kids were having fun creating and had a quality educational experience. These outcomes ranged from social-emotional learning to topics that covered culture, family, identity, and friendship. Due to COVID-19, however, some of these scheduled plans have been adjusted. Amid this pandemic, we are now focused on helping kids build identities within themselves and their families while staying connected.
The Art program’s first week in the community goals was to ensure that every household received an art family kit. The kit comprises of art materials such as markers, watercolor paint, tape, scissors, and other materials that families can use to engage in weekly activites. Each child was thrilled to get their own handmade sketchbook. Raychel reflected on the children’s excitement upon receiving their art kits, stating that the “Kids dug into it and were so excited to start. They’ve been really craving it for sure.”
Raychel shared her experience bringing the art kits into the Yes Network Neighborhoods and spoke about their eagerness to get their hands on the art materials. “We brought kits to the Ivy community, and one girl went inside and grabbed her cup of water and had a group of kids painting already, and just like that, everyone was sketching in their sketchbooks.” Another site that she shared was the Bel Clare community, which is home to a large Spanish speaking population. She reflected on the challenges of the language barrier between the Yes Network Staff. She talked about utilizing a translator app to communicate, such as “here are some art materials for your family.” She elaborated on one instance where a child who received an art kit got so excited that he grabbed her phone and typed into her translator app “thank you so much, I’m excited” in Spanish and then returned it to her.
The Arts program has left an impact on the Yes Network neighborhoods over the years, and this summer will be no exception. The Yes Network is excited for the creative initiatives and activities that will be hosted throughout the summer. Some experiences include STEM, Dance, Music, and Art-making through step by step instructions with images and multiple languages along with a YouTube channel where the Yes Network Artists demonstrate the activity. We are excited to continue in our efforts to create vibrant, loving, prosperous engagement with youth and families in the communities. When asked what is important that readers should know, Raychel stated that “It’s bigger than the markers. It’s bigger than the art project. We are giving kids the freedom to be themselves. The moment you allow a kid to be themselves and to express something they want to talk about, it opens up a whole door. All anyone ever wants, I think, is to be themselves and not have to put on a mask.”