Kalamazoo Parks and Rec Summer Program Helps Middle Schoolers Transition to High School Using Art

Editor’s Note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

We weren’t sure how it would be – about 15 kids and about 10 adults outside in 95 degree heat. What were we doing? Take photos of downtown Kalamazoo that would eventually be displayed on several utility boxes in the community with the help of KalBlue, a Kalamazoo visual communications company, and public art duo Dreamscene Placemaking. The program is called All things possibleand it is part of the Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation Summer Camps.

Annalee Roeder and Erik Vasilauskas, co-founders of Kalamazoo Dreamscene Placemaking, were the project leads for this year’s art portion All things possible program. The Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation website describes All Things Possible as “a program for young people entering high school for the first time.”

It aims to “expose young people to exciting new opportunities, including career interests, leadership, nature and unique travel. The goal of this summer camp is to help young people be better prepared for high school and beyond.

Second Wave sat down with Roeder and Vasilauskas, as well as some of the students and Parks and Rec staff to discuss their expectations of the program and the realities. I attended two weeks in a row as an animator for the photography section and I was impressed by the commitment of the young people.

One thing that stood out to me the most about the program was the benefits. Students who complete All possible things, receive free driver training. For some young people and their families, this is a game-changer. Driver training in Kalamazoo can cost nearly $1,000 for both segments.

Chrus Wright poses in front of his part of the collaborative mural.Second Wave spoke with a Parks and Rec employee and a former All things possible student Chanel Wilson who says not having to pay for driver education can ease a burden on families and students, and really propel students forward. Wilson also made it very clear that programs like All things possible provide the infrastructure for positive networking that can help students stay focused throughout high school when various pressures can lead them astray.

Some of the youth in the program were there with their siblings. One of these families was the Reigles. I spoke with former Maple Street student Lane Reigle one day during the photography session after he had finished creating a collage using photos he had taken with a vintage Polaroid camera combined with magazine cutouts.

Reigle participated in All things possible with his brother and sister, all triplets. He says one of the main reasons the three were in the program is because “my mom didn’t want to pay for the driver’s licenses for the three of us” and “she wanted us to do something in the summer”. Reigle is 13 and heading into ninth grade at Loy Norrix. He says the program was fun and would have been more fun if it hadn’t been so hot. We both laughed at that, because… just.

That being said, the heat is one of the main challenges of summer programming for young people. Parks and Rec even canceled a session this summer due to the heat. Camps were to be held indoors or in the pool that day. Roeder viewed the heat as an opportunity, saying it “provided a nice connection to the Kalamazoo Public Library. They opened their doors to the group, who were able to take advantage of the teen center, and refresh themselves during our walk.” The whole group was very happy to take a break towards the end of our hot downtown adult and youth photography tour.

Vasilauskas, who moved from Dayton, Ohio to Kalamazoo in 2015 with his now wife Roeder also considered the challenges of All things possible be more opportunities than anything else. Vasilauskas says murals and public art are things he and Roeder look for when they travel. This objective is also apparent in the youth programming they organize. The youths not only took pictures to display publicly downtown, but also painted a mural at the Kalamazoo Youth Development Center.

Roeder and Vasilauskas are ready to put the finishing touches on the Kalamazoo Youth Development Center mural. Vasilauskas also pointed out that it was a special thing to “share our experiences as artists working in the community”. One of the main objectives of the artistic part of All things possible was to enrich the young people who come from the region where they already live.

“The easiest part is showing up,” Vasilauskas laughs. I asked him the same question I asked Roeder about the challenges of youth programming. He says the hard part comes with the planning: answering the various questions about what types of art to include, where to orchestrate outings, and perhaps the hardest part – will young people have fun and actually learn something. thing ?

Vasilauskas and Roeder have definitely achieved their goal, at least according to 14-year-old Loy Norrix freshman Chrus Wright.

“I think the painting is really cool. I’m more of a colorist, but I still really like to paint. Wright burst into excitement when I asked him what he thought of the art program. We were having this conversation on the lawn outside the Youth Development Center on Crosstown Parkway and Wright was wearing a paint-splattered disposable poncho. Wright says his favorite part of the program was, “Creating your own ideas and making your own image of what you think is cool.”

Davia McCoy poses in front of her mural. In an interview with Vasilauskas while he was hosting at the Western Michigan University Rec Center, he… said to me: “From the photography side, I’m always surprised that a group of 25 people on the same itinerary can adopt a different perspective from photographs. We all sit in the same places, but we all shoot different things. he says.

As he strolled with the youth and other adults in downtown Kalamazoo, Wright was kept busy using various types of cameras, and even his tablet brought from home. He used the tips and tricks provided by the animators by crouching on the ground and trying different angles.

Roeder commented that “just seeing the enthusiasm for instant film (Polaroid) inspired her, got her excited to take pictures again,” using different angles and viewpoints, just as she encouraged young people to do.

One of those students was Davia McCoy, a 14-year-old Maple Street Magnet graduate who headed to Kalamazoo Central. McCoy found herself the subject of many photos the day her group strolled downtown, as well as behind the camera snapping photos along the walk. McCoy says that All things possible “Helps me mentally… It makes me happier.” McCoy told Second Wave that the art part was his favorite part of the whole program.

“It kicks me out,” McCoy says.

A student carefully paints his part of the mural. Chanel Wilson of Parks and Rec draws attention to this aspect of the program as we sat outside the youth development center where the All things possible group was painting. She tells me how important she thinks it is for students to get out of their comfort zone and “feel comfortable being uncomfortable”.

Now that summer is coming to an end, utility boxes displaying student photographs will soon be installed. The change of seasons also means that students have started high school, which All things possible prepared them. All the students surveyed say the same thing: they are nervous and excited about leaving college. Similarly, all of the adults interviewed want young people to know that they have important voices, voices they hope to keep strong through the adversities of high school and even growing up.
Annalee Roeder and facilitator Catalina Gonzales snap a few photos of the group in a parking lot.

Ryan H. Bowman