Kayla teaches a child to work with clay.

Community Education Spaces for Systemic Change

As an FAO Schwarz Fellow and the After-School Program Coordinator at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, and I also serve as a teaching artist within the organization. My direct service work happens with Claymobile (our mobile engagement program), as well as our in-house ceramic community events. One of my favorite direct service projects during my tenure so far was engaging with our Clay, Play, Read program, where we combine literacy programming and ceramics in each session for preschool-aged students. I was also able to take part in Clayfest, our yearly festival where we have all-day activities taking place throughout the studio.

Growing up in Philadelphia, I have always experienced access to multiple types of community education spaces like libraries, community centers, gardens, art studios, and more. My local library felt like a haven for me to learn about my interests, engage in craft projects, and go to events. My art experience was cut short in elementary school due to underfunding and I am now learning what it looks like to engage in art practice as self-care. As an adult, I look to community education spaces for practicing new hobbies, meeting with friends, and learning something new.

Social impact work has a goal of systemic change, and I believe that the prioritization of community spaces that encourage exploration is essential to that journey.

When I thought about what I wanted to study in college or choose as my career I always knew that I wanted to work in youth education, so I chose to study human development and community engagement. My experiences with community education spaces growing up taught me that there is always something more to discover in life. Community spaces, especially free or low-cost spaces encourage families, friends, and strangers to come together in collaboration to have a new experience, meet new people and ultimately feel safe. Starting work with my Fellowship at The Clay Studio this July showed me a new type of community education experience in the arts.

My special project work at The Clay Studio involves the creation of an after-school ceramics art program. The coordination of this program includes curriculum development, communication with schools, networking/marketing, enrollment, and registration. The age group is currently third through fifth grade and students come after school dismissal to the studio to hand-build, wheel throw, and make claymation films. This program is the first of its kind in this organization, giving us the ability to work with the same students for a long-term residency in our studio. The arts and ceramics, in particular, teach important skills to students such as patience, persistence, imagination, and play. Being able to create a space in our organization for this type of community to exist means that students get to practice their craft, engage with other children in their age group, and be welcomed with open arms.

In addition, the role includes community partnerships, and this has allowed me to contact local arts and culture organizations to collaborate with our after-school program and incorporate other forms of education in the program. One of the pillars of community education is simply offering a space that is available for people to spend time in without the expectation of spending money or working. Being able to spend time in this environment and create a program for children has been so rewarding because I have experienced the benefits of programs similar in my childhood.

As we as a city, country, and world are engaging with challenges related to social equity, safety, and isolation, I feel that the creation of community engagement and education programs will act as a protective factor for all. Social impact work has a goal of systemic change, and I believe that the prioritization of community spaces that encourage exploration is essential to that journey.

Kayla Johnson

Kayla Johnson

Kayla Johnson (she/they) is the After-School Program Coordinator and FAO Schwarz Fellow at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia.

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