All around the country, concern over the pandemic has compelled schools to reconcile their educational efforts with social distancing best practices. Teachers in my home of New York City have done a phenomenal job of both preserving students’ passion for learning and cultivating creativity even amid resoundingly stressful circumstances. It would be impossible to highlight all of their achievements in a single blog; however, I do want to put the determination and spirit of one of NYC’s most creative academic programs into the spotlight. 

The School of Interactive Arts — colloquially known by students and faculty as SIA — is a pre-college program founded by the Urban Arts Partnership. The program took root out of a belief that the game development sector was rife with opportunity and lacking workforce diversity. SIA, organizers felt, could help address both points by teaching creative high school students the art and science of game development. 

The SIA curriculum is an expansive, multi-year offering that supports students through their high school years. As its organizers explain on the school’s website, SIA “uses game design as an entry point to teach computer science and higher level coding while helping students develop pre-professional skills in communication, collaboration, project management, and entrepreneurship.” To accomplish this directive, SIA offers courses on visual arts, music, game-writing, and programming in addition to SAT prep, college advising services, portfolio assistance, and Kickstarter support. 

Currently, SIA draws students from over 45 high schools across New York City and New Jersey, many of which receive Title 1 funding. The program’s alumni have collectively earned $1.2 million in scholarships, seen a 100 percent college matriculation rate, and a 200-point average improvement to their SAT scores. Students also make, on average, $1,700 by selling the games they create. 

“I feel like I’m finally in a space where I can express my interest in video games,” SIA alumna Sarah shared in a testimonial. “I’ve met a lot of really good people here and made a ton of friends, people I really connect with. I feel like that’s one of the best things about SIA.”

Each year, SIA holds an arcade to showcase their projects. Typically, the event takes place in an in-person venue — however, pandemic concerns compelled organizers to shift to a virtual format. In mid-April, students and faculty members alike took to the game streaming platform Twitch to share their work. 

“Despite operating in a virtual environment, our students shined as they showcased the projects they worked on over the course of the year,” one organizer shared, noting that the stream featured SIA students’ “amazing achievements in game design, collaboration, and computer science.” 

It is undeniably inspiring to see students continue to seek creative achievement despite the stresses of the pandemic. The SIA and the Urban Arts Partnership are doing fantastic work, and we wish them the best in the coming months.