Empowering Youth Through Art & Education

Empowering Youth Through Art & Education

A Conversation with Sandra Soto, Introducing IBA’s New Youth Development Program Director

Sandra Soto’s love for education has taken her from being a first-year teacher at DC public schools to a Master’s Degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her passion for creating and educating change in society, especially among the youth inspired her to take on the role of Director of the Youth Development Program at IBA.

In a recent interview, Sandra shared her professional story and how this journey has shaped her approach to youth empowerment.

Teaching for Social Justice

Sandra grew up in Southern California. As the daughter of a Cuban immigrant and grand-daughter of Italian immigrants, she had a curiosity to explore and travel beyond her horizons. Her enthusiasm for discovery landed her in Boston University, where she studied Elementary Education and became a teacher.

After graduation, Sandra’s work as a teacher took her all around the world – from student teaching in Australia to being an online ESL instructor and a special-ed math teacher at a suburban California school. “Throughout all of these experiences,” Sandra recalls, “I saw the ways in which injustice, particularly racism, impacted my students’ lives.”

Imagining a Better World

Discovering an element of social justice in her role as an educator gave Sandra a new sense of purpose. She wanted to create deeper change inside and outside the classroom, but wasn’t aware on how to do so.

In search of answers, Sandra enrolled in Harvard Graduate School of Education. Despite attending, Sandra jokes, “I left [Harvard] with more questions. Although left with more questions than answers, Sandra used this realization as motivation to empower communities and transform society within.

In 2021, she joined IBA through its partnership with Life Together – an Episcopal Service Corps program built on three pillars: Contemplative practice, Communal living, and Prophetic imagination. The intentional community with Life Together and supportive, safe space at IBA gave Sandra the opportunity to explore non-traditional education settings.

Art for Empowerment

As the Director of the Youth Development Program at IBA, Sandra is passionate about building teen confidence through the arts. The program provides an opportunity for young members of the community to explore their identity and culture, tell their stories, and develop positive relationships with peers and adults.

Through the program, Sandra developed a creative writing and visual arts curriculum that helps teens “enhance their ability to speak up about issues that are important to them.” Daily workshops weave artistic enrichment with civic engagement, giving the youth tools to create change in their community.

Equality Through Education

To promote integral development of our youth, the program also provides academic support and financial literacy opportunities. “IBA’s commitment to holistic community development resonates with me,” said Sandra. “I really appreciate how dedicated IBA is to offering comprehensive programming.”

The Youth Development Program offers small group learning, individualized tutoring, and financial empowerment workshops to give teens the opportunity to learn money management skills and practice setting financial goals. Sandra is confident that these important life skills are key to preparing our youth for the future.

Holistic Community Development

Sandra’s hope with the Youth Development Program is to generate integral growth that meets the needs of the whole person and the entire community. Whether it’s through one-on-one mentorship or engaging courses, the goal is to promote self-expression and reflection.

In thinking of her role as leader of the program, Sandra admits that one of her favorite parts is “talking to the youth about their dreams for the future and possible paths that will lead them to achieve personal success.” These conversations also allow Sandra to better understand what motivates the youth and how to tailor the program to their needs.

To learn more about Sandra’s work with the community, visit the IBA Youth Development Program website. With a variety of workshops and events, the program is an excellent resource for teens to connect with peers, receive mentorship, and find opportunities for personal growth.