Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA)May 24, 2023
About the author: Annie Cao is a second-year medical student and volunteers regularly at Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA) for her service-learning project through the University. Ever since she taught nutrition and cooking classes to elementary students in college, she has enjoyed making the health and sciences more tangible for the upcoming generation. Volunteering at DAVA has allowed her to continue that passion while also giving her a creative outlet herself.
Nineteen pairs of curious eyes blinked back at me as I stood at the front of the studio with my old microbiology textbook in hand. “So – what do you all know about bacteria?” I asked. A long silence ensued, and then a timid hand went up. “They can make you really sick”, a girl with ruby-red glasses replied. “They are on almost everything!” said a boy in a Sonic the Hedgehog shirt. “Some even live on you!” exclaimed another student. One by one, the students shared with me both their knowledge about microbiology and their enthusiasm to learn more. I spent the rest of the lesson talking about commensal, “good” bacteria, and pathogenic, “bad” bacteria, and showed plenty pictures of all their colors and shapes. Afterwards, the students dispersed to various activities including making clay bacteria models, looking at slides under a microscope, and drawing “wanted” posters for the worst bacterial offenders. I walked around the studio, and students proudly showed me their work and asked questions based on what they’d learned previously in school. At the end of the day, I was especially encouraged by each student’s enthusiasm and grateful for the space I got to share with them.
Part of my medical school experience requires volunteering at a community organization, and I was excited to be paired with DAVA. Located in the heart of Aurora, which is home to a vibrant, multicultural population, DAVA provides enriching after-school programs to students of all ages to foster creativity and prepare for college. DAVA creates a safe space for youth outside of school in a neighborhood where most parents work jobs with long hours. Its programs serve participants across age groups, gender, and ethnicity. DAVA youth are 42% Hispanic, 20% white, 14% African American/Black, 14% multi-ethnic, 8% Asian, 1% Native American, and 1% Middle Eastern. 75% of DAVA youth are immigrants and refugees who must learn new language, education, and social systems. Community-wide challenges also include high crime rates and poverty, exposure to drugs and alcohol, and low high school graduation rates. Last summer, DAVA received a grant to combine the arts and sciences, which paved the way for me to teach students about bacteria, viruses, and nutrition.
In addition to giving lessons, I also spend time in the art studio in general, engaging with students while they work on other projects for their next art show. One of my most meaningful conversations was with a high school student who had been accepted to CSU with the goal of becoming a veterinarian but felt financial and social pressure from her parents to stay at home. I listened to her and encouraged her throughout, telling her that scholarships, work study, and community college can make higher education more feasible, and that this was an opportunity she earned and deserved. I love connecting with all of the students at DAVA, and I hope my lessons inspire them to learn more about the sciences and dream of even bigger futures for themselves.
Looking forward, DAVA and I have recently received a Good Skin Knowledge grant through the American Academy of Dermatology. This grant provides funding to teach basic skin lessons to elementary-aged students, and I am excited to be teaching them about skin structure and function, acne, sun safety, plant rashes, and bug bites. My time and experience at DAVA have grown into so much more than I thought it would be, and I am looking forward to continuing working with them throughout my medical education.
If you are interested in learning more about DAVA, please see their website linked here.