Mykai Matthews-Nell enjoys playing basketball and dancing to hip-hop.
While she said her family’s love matters more to her than anything else, the 13-year-old middle school student also values her bracelets.
“I have 12 bracelets on my right arm and 38 bracelets on my left arm,” she said Saturday, May 28 at Creative Suitland Arts Center. “The ones on my right arm are pearls. The ones on my left arm are beads. Just something I like.”
Mykai and other teenagers, ages 13 to 17, will spend part of their Saturdays for the next 20 weeks participating in a “CreateTEEN” workshop series for students to learn creative writing, songwriting, poetry, dance and theater. The goal will be for students to create their own production.
Another goal will be to create a safe space away from home, especially in light of the May 24 elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers died. It has been marked as the deadliest school shooting in a decade.
Two days later on Wednesday, May 26, school officials at Fairmount Heights High School locked down the school for almost two hours after a student allegedly brought a ghost gun to school.
Prince George’s County Police recovered parts of the weapon and one day later, charged a male student with possession of a handgun by a minor.
The county school system released a statement and a list of tips for parents and guardians to use for discussions with their children about the tragedy.
Back at Creative Suitland, Mykai and Landon Turner, 13, said they’ve talked with their parents and friends about school safety. Both said they feel safe in school.
Landon, who attends Ernest Everett Just Middle School in Mitchellville, joined other peers in his school to produce the “Creative Intellectuals.”
“We have common interests like gaming, creating video games [and] coding – a lot of stuff that deals with computers,” he said. “We met in art class. Instead of regular art, we were creating video game sketches. We all like adventure and to explore. We always do stuff. That’s how we stay safe.”
Mykai hopes to make new friends by participating in a group project.
“Your personalities can match,” she said.
Mykai and Landon understand their schools offer a more structured setting. That’s why they’ve enjoyed the first two weeks of the teen program which allows them the freedom to express themselves differently.
For instance, instructor Madea Bailey of Baltimore asked them to jot down what color represents their current mood. The purpose isn’t to highlight a specific color.
“The color doesn’t have to be specific. It’s on them,” said Bailey, who also performs spoken work under the name of “Da Truth Da Poet.”
“What we do is we speak to them on their level,” said Rina Turner, program coordinator at Creative Suitland.
“School has that structure to it where it’s rigid. There’s safety and freedom here. You get to be as creative as you want. We do have rules and regulations but they also contribute to what they would like to incorporate. Think of us as like the blueprint.”