Art school turns life around for troubled teens

Las Artes Arts and Education Center is trying to turn around the lives of young adults who drop out of school -- nearly 20 percent of Tucson Unified School District students did in 2015.

The center combines classroom study with community art projects to give students a sense of pride in hard work.

Students 17 to 26 study for their GED while at Las Artes, focusing on one subject at a time. They also test into art classes like murals; it's what worked for 19-year-old graduates Natatasha Jones and Claudia Leal.

"I was on track to graduate, but my grandfather passed away, and that made it very difficult to just keep going to school," said Leal. 

Doing murals teaches students about patience, determination, and creativity. 

Leal used her time at Las Artes to make a mural of her grandfather - a prized possesion she gave her grandmother.

"I kinda stopped and thought to myself.  'I wasn't going to get anywhere if I was just another high school dropout. I didn't want to be another statistic'," reflected Leal.

Instead, Leal is part of this statistic: In 20 years, more than 500 teens and young adults have worked to get their GED at Las Artes. 

Fellow Las Artes graduate Natatasha Jones explained her path, saying, "While I was at Cholla, I ended up getting locked up, and I was kinda on drugs and stuff, and when I was locked up, it gave me a lot of time to think."

Jones says she is living proof that working toward an education and career goal can turn around a troubled teen.

"Think about your future," Jones said. "You obviously want a job. If you don't want a job you want money, you know, either way you're going to want money."

Youth must complete an application and take a basic academic assessment to determine placement level for Las Artes.

Las Artes is at 23 W. 27th St. South Tucson, AZ 85713.

For more information or to enroll for fall, please call (520) 724-5050 or visit this site .

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