“Life Skills” and Positive Personal Growth at Idyllwild Arts

January 27, 2011 at 10:27 am Leave a comment

by John R. Newman, Dean of Students

The three-pronged mission of Idyllwild Arts Academy is a tripod, a support structure known for its sturdiness and balance. Our faculty, staff, and administration work together to combine the highest caliber of pre-professional training in the arts with outstanding college preparatory academics and an emphasis on positive personal growth. This structure we’ve created is our way of providing support to aspiring young people who demand more than typical teenagers.

We recognize the importance of balance, not only in achieving our mission as a school, but in trying to instill healthy habits that will become the foundation of stable, happy lives. Integral to our efforts is the Life Skills curriculum taught at each grade level. In these classes, students are challenged to look at their own personality characteristics, needs, emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and to gain an appreciation and greater understanding and empathy, for those around them. The Life Skills classes are taught by our counseling staff and our physical education coordinator.

The Life Skills curriculum at the freshman and sophomore levels focuses largely on the importance of healthy self care. In addition to basic skills of proper hygiene, sleep, nutrition, and time management, students are also taught to recognize, clarify and articulate higher-level goals and the means of attaining them. Students learn to develop interpersonal skills upon the basis of respect, trust and empathy. They learn about active listening and the potential negative effects of peer pressure. One of the most important topics covered for all grade levels is the distinction between healthy and unhealthy means of coping with stress and sadness.

Healthy coping skills for teenagers include reaching out to reliable support networks like friends, family, dorm parents and other faculty. We make a point of telling and showing our students in many ways that we are available to them. As Bill Lowman likes to say, we are each other’s greatest audience, as is evidenced when we pack auditoriums and galleries for friends’ concerts, plays, exhibitions and readings. The heart of our program revolves around the people with whom our students live and eat and work and study in classrooms, studios, and especially in our residence halls on campus. Dorm life is rich with activity, camaraderie, diversity, and fun; it offers tremendous opportunity for personal growth and social development, as well as a home for much needed rest at the end of each long day of hard work.

Other skills we teach our students to help them face the challenges of their busy lives include proper exercise, breathing and other relaxation techniques, effective organizational routines, goal-setting, responsible attendance, and naturally, “doing” their art. In step with these goals, we spend a good amount of time with each of the grade levels discussing the ill effects of unhealthy coping means, such as substance use, withdrawal and avoidance (especially skipping class and other commitments), overeating, procrastination, denial, and in worst case scenarios, cutting and other self injurious behaviors. In each of these cases, we discuss physical, emotional, and social repercussions, as well as the ways in which each of these behaviors affects others, and the ways in which consequences for each are often exacerbated over time.

One of the other goals for each of the four grade levels deals with effective communication. Obviously, this is a goal that is addressed in various ways in each of the other two prongs of the school’s mission statement, i.e. the arts and academic areas. As far as communication from a Student Services standpoint, we engage students in the importance of assertiveness and self advocacy, respectful expression of ideas and good listening, careful and thoughtful choice of words, “I” statements in dealing with potential conflict, mediation skills, and good humor.

In their junior and senor years, students revisit many of these same themes in their Life Skills classes, but the focus shifts markedly to preparing for life away from Idyllwild Arts. Students are expected to complete a thorough self assessment, including goals, values, challenges, and changes they have experienced during high school. They are asked to view themselves as “whole beings,” and to explore what that means in a larger context than their individual arts departments or family unit. We see a greater emphasis on leadership and self reflection, and on the importance of mindfulness, observation, and critique.

The curriculum takes into account some of the practical challenges each grade level will soon face, such as the college and conservatory admission process, and for seniors, choosing a career path, and budgets and finance. Students are exposed to topics such as ways to avoid predatory credit card companies, renting an apartment, filing taxes, signing contracts, and preparing grant proposals. Our older students experience an even greater emphasis on fundamentals of effective communication.

Daniel Gray, our physical education coordinator, teaches the upper-level Life Skills classes. Daniel is a graduate of Idyllwild Arts, which makes him uniquely qualified to teach current students about transitioning from IAA. Daniel is also one of the coordinators of the Arts Enterprise Laboratory, a program that helps prepare our students and create opportunities for young alumni for a career in the arts. Daniel received a BA in Multi-Media Studies from the Johnston Center at the University of Redlands where he combined visual art, music and business.

The freshman and sophomore Life Skills classes are taught by our excellent counseling staff, Cara Wilkerson and Shannon Jacobs. Cara holds a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Shannon is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor and a National Certified Addictions Counselor. Shannon also holds a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis on “Adventure-Based Psychotherapy.”

The challenges of our modern times demand creative thinking, cooperation, and imaginative problem solving. These are skills that are taught in the context of all three prongs of our school’s mission statement, and they are reinforced in our Life Skills curriculum. While many of our graduates become professional artists, all of our students leave Idyllwild Arts Academy with an ability to approach difficult situations with flexibility and open mindedness; they possess the skills to express themselves with confidence, and can articulate their ideas effectively. Most importantly, they understand the importance of mutual respect and trust, and of being a part of something that is bigger than any one of us individually. Ultimately, we hope they understand who they are and what they stand for.

Entry filed under: student services.

Juniors – Time to Plan Your College/Conservatory/University Search Thunder Soul at Idyllwild Arts Academy

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January 2011


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