Program Spotlight: NUA Knights

As part of New Urban Art’s 25th Anniversary, we will be spotlighting current programs and initiatives across the organization. For our ninth month, we are highlighting NUA Knights with an interview with the Site Director there, Kelly Harlow, and the new NUA Knights Program Coordinator, Sherly Torres.

In 2017, New Urban Arts (NUA) and Central High School (CHS) teamed together to expand the after school programming for Central students. The NUA Knights expansion program is funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grant awarded to NUA and CHS by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). NUA Knights offers comprehensive after school programming that strives to create a greater sense of community and personalization for students centering on Academics, Arts, Intramural Sports, Leadership and Social/Emotional Learning. 


What is NUA Knights?

Kelly: NUA knights is a space for Central High School students to explore their interests and passions after school. We’re a partnership that NUA and Central started in 2017, so we are starting our 6th year of programs!


What is the relationship between NUA Knights and the 705 Westminster Studio?

Kelly: It’s like a bridge to me—it really brings over a lot of the feeling of the NUA space right into the school. 

Sherly: It’s a 50-50 relationship in that we help NUA reach out to more Central students who need after school opportunities in the school (and who don’t want to walk all the way over to the studio), and we send students over to NUA and share some of the way we run programs.



Are the programs similar?

Kelly: We do have more structured programs students can sign up for, but it’s still drop-in, they don’t have to go to every single guitar club meeting, etc. And the programs are run by teachers and other staff at Central, but there’s also our office space where students can hang out with us, which is much less structured.

Sherly: Instructors have freedom in how they plan their program, and attendance isn’t mandatory, so students can come and go as they please. There’s time and space for teachers and students to connect in ways they might not in class.


Why is NUA Knights important for students at Central?

Kelly: I think without NUA Knights there would be so many kids that aren’t doing anything afterschool, just going home or hanging around. Allowing them to have connections with teachers/community partners after school is so valuable. 

Sherly: I consider it a place to let them breathe a little, a space for them to make executive decisions for themselves, and recognize that they are making executive decisions for themselves. Whether that decision is “do nothing at all,” or practice some kind of craft or art, this is a space where we acknowledge the students’ wants and needs and work with that rather than the other way around.


What is your favorite program that you run?

Kelly: Our office space is called “Hanging With NUA Knights,” which is a lot of fun. Students can break out a canvas or make bracelets or start a huge game of UNO, it’s just a place to be and hang out with people. 

Sherly: I like the activities that are beyond normal academic fields. They took out the music program during the school day, so we’re offering that now after school, and we have a cooking class now, which is really cool! 



You just organized an Opportunities Fair for the students—can you tell me a little more about that?

Kelly: Yeah! NUA Knights wanted not only to highlight our program opportunities but the opportunities of community organizations around Providence to the young people of Central, Classical, and PCTA. We invited 15 youth-serving orgs to table and promote their fantastic programs. In total, we had about 250 youth walk through to check out what was out there for them!


What are your hopes for the year?

Kelly: Being able to provide our programs to as many students as possible. 

Sherly: I hope that it can actually encourage some productivity for students. A lot of them are seniors coming back from COVID-world and they struggle with hopelessness in thinking about what to do after school. I think sometimes coming here helps them understand that they do have hobbies and maybe motivates them to think about that in the future.



What are your dreams for the future?

Kelly: A student being able to walk in and say, ‘I’m interested in X,’ and we can say, ‘We can do that!’ or if not, then, ‘Let’s make it happen!’ I want to build on what we have and offer a wide variety. 

Sherly: I hope to extend this program to other schools if possible… and more field trips haha. Something out of state would be really cool. 

Kelly: Yeah just more exposure for the students, getting out a little more.


Any words of wisdom for Central students as you gear up for the start of the year?

Kelly: Come spend an afternoon with us! We’ll be here, and if you show up and you realize none of these programs actually interest you, you can tell us what does interest you, and we can act as a hub and get you connected to a place where you can do that.

Shely: We start programs on October 11th! 

Kelly: We have a guitar program (which includes electric and bass! We’re getting a drum set and keyboard, we’re going to have a full band!), book club, fitness/weight club and training is maybe our most popular program, and chess team, which has won statewide awards. We’re gonna have a cooking program again which is very exciting, and a fashion/design program. We also have some planned partnerships for the future with groups like Farm Fresh RI in the spring. Sojourner House is gonna come in and talk about healthy relationships, and Young Voices will come in to talk about activism with the students.