Fairhill: Taller Puertorriqueño Provides an After-School Haven

Art teacher Carlos Pascual sat down as both a mentor and friend to help one of his older students in class.

Businesses, families and educators agree that Fairhill lacks sufficient after-school activities to keep students off the streets. Leading the way to correct the problem, Taller Puertorriqueño has numerous programs all with an individual purpose for the students who attend.

Art teacher Carlos Pascual sat down as both a mentor and friend to help one of his older students in class.

“I think that after-school programs are hugely beneficial especially when you are speaking in terms of the fact that those services are provided to youth at the hours when they are most at risk,” Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises employee Emanuel Rivera said. “The cultural aspect and teaching of Taller Puertorriqueño is a benefit to all the youth involved.”

Along with the Lorenzo Homar Gallery and Julia de Burgos bookstore, Taller Puertorriqueño knew that it had more to offer. Now bringing arts to children in North Philadelphia, the organization has provided a safe haven against other dangerous paths.

With little to no cost for the community, Taller Puertorriqueño holds after-school programs that allow students of all ages to express their artistic abilities. They feature year-round activities like art instruction, tutoring, dance classes and more.

The programs are divided up by both ages and interests of the students to help push them and find themselves creatively.

The center’s Cultural Awareness Program (CAP) is another option for art education classes. CAP allows the younger students to tackle their homework, partake in after-school activities, parent workshops and weekend classes in addition to their seven-week children’s summer arts camp. With the guidance of the center’s teachers and volunteers, there is no doubt that the students are in good hands.

“I love when the kids say they have a problem and I can just say, let’s just nip it in the bud,” teacher Angie Amaro said. “I love to see them shine. When they’re here I see them as my own kids.”

Franddy Falu danced with his fellow CAP students that he describes as both awesome and respectable.

Through CAP the students are introduced to local artists and performers who also educate the children on finding their true passions. CAP students are also encouraged to participate in social activities like Fun Fridays at the center. Taller Puertorriqueño’s programs leave the students with a better chance to give back to the community in their own way.

With walls lined of the student’s proud artwork and plenty of time to bond with their peers, the organization’s program lifts the pressures that life or school may bring to the students on a daily basis.

“I don’t want to be another high school student that doesn’t know what to do,” Nestor Tamayo said.

Along with CAP the Youth Artist Program (YAP) is a two-year training program for high school students like Tamayo that are (or not) interested in art. With the help from their experienced instructors the students build a portfolio and are given an opportunity to develop their skills.

YAP students also get to visit other galleries or studios and participate in workshops with local artists. With their completed portfolios, they can show off their work and use them to apply to leading arts colleges. Not only are they getting a lesson in art, these older students discuss topics related to their social interests like hip-hop or Puerto Rican culture for instance.

“I used to see people coming in and out of the school and they told me it was an art program, and now I like it,” said 17-year-old Ricardo Lopez. A senior in high school, Lopez has been attending the Youth Artist Program for two years and will be graduating at the end of the semester.

In order to participate in YAP students must have the desire for a serious pursuit in an education in the arts. Taller Puertorriqueño currently accepts just 14 students a year and requires those students to make a two-year commitment.

Another beneficial program that the organization holds is Visitenos. This offers groups and students a chance to develop their self-understanding and appreciation for cultural diversity. Participating teachers also receive many lessons to further their education plans. This program involves fun activities like traditional Latino dancing, making authentic masks, T-shirts and more.

When the students are finished with their homework they are allowed to play games with their friends.

Also Memories in the Making is another option for the older residents in Fairhill. Joining with the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, it holds weekly watercolor painting workshops for a group of up to ten Alzheimer patients. After losing some of their basic abilities to communicate, this workshop breaks that barrier through art.

Just like its website states, Taller Puertorriqueño is the cultural heart of Latino Philadelphia and continues to give back as much as it takes in from the students. The school is doing its best to give students the opportunity to learn new skills and stay focused after school.

Robert Molina, a resident of Fairhill, said if he had something like this in his era, people wouldn’t have made so many mistakes in life. “We didn’t have guidance,” Molina said.

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