This program provides a trauma-informed, thematic creative arts curriculum that seeks to develop and build resilience in adolescent girls who have had adverse childhood experiences. Often young girls who have sustained repeated physical and sexual traumatization or have been subject to human trafficking have difficulty processing information and communicating verbally, which can have an impact on learning and developing. Academic education is not always effective; however, Art Education offers these young girls alternative ways of communicating thoughts and ideas, understanding their experiences, and developing resilience and defining a strong sense of self.
CVCA's program seeks to examine resilience development and art making in adolescent girls through the implementation of thematic creative arts and writing curriculum. The curriculum is adapted from the work of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, a noted Bauhaus-educated artist. During WWII, Friedl taught art to traumatized children under the most oppressive circumstances imaginable - the Terezin ghetto camp near Prague. Many of Friedl's students have reported that making art offered hope and courage. Through creative engagement (art making and writing) in a safe learning environment with adults and peers, this project offers similar opportunities to explore concerns, express hope, support positive coping skills, develop inner strengths and fosters resilience.
This project is significant because violence, poverty, and trauma-related disorders among adolescents in our schools/communities are growing in prevalence. Constructing a curricular model for art teachers working with troubled adolescent students in educational and therapeutic contexts is imperative. This art curriculum uses stimulating and creative approaches and has the potential to benefit a group of adolescents who are disadvantaged and marginalized in education. It is essential this evidence based art curriculum be developed, especially for those working in urban settings who desperately need alternative strategies to work with students who are struggling with the effects of traumatic stress in their lives. Annually this program culminates in a community exhibition, most recently at the Woodmere Art Museum. As one participant already commented: "This class taught me not to be scared of my own shadow, at the end of the day there will be light, I can see my own reflection."
Building connections and collaborations between clinical and school personnel is clearly a best practice for schools working with high needs children. A child's academic struggles are not limited to learning problems, but rather connect directly to issues of self-esteem, mental health, and past trauma. Art education and art therapy are areas where these issues can be accessed in school, where children can find support and healing within the structure of an academic program. Similary, therapists can offer important support for teachers as they work together to strengthen and support the child's academic and behavioral progress. When art educators and art therapists collaborate, working towards the same goal, there are many points of intersection, often creating something novel that none of the individual parties could have imagined.
Carson Valley Children's Aid's Creative Arts Curriculum originated by a collaboration with Dr. Lisa Kay, Assistant Professor, Department of Art Education and Community Arts Practices, Temple University Tyler School of Art. Dr. Kay has worked closely with Carson Valley's Clinical Director Charlotte Anderson, Art Therapist Denise Wolf, and the art education department to design and an educational and therapeutic program. Once the program is fully established, leadership of this program will become the responsiblity of graduate level students from Temple University. This will provide valuable educational opportunities for graduate students seeking internships in arts based human services.
The long term goal is the development of a thematic, evidence-based curricula that fosters resilience through art making. In providing this to other schools, community based art programs, and behavioral health providers they will have the capability to replicate with similar success. Educators will have access to lesson plans, detailing goals, objectives, and action steps aligned with Common Core Standards.
This art program supports these adolescent girls along a continum of interventions that acknowledge both the strengths and needs of the individuals, engages them in a shared plan for their lives and partners with them to identify and explore meaningful choices as they consider a future that is focused not simply on surviving, but one that is about thriving. Using pre- and post-test reports from teachers, parents/guardians, and the participants, CVCA seeks to quantify the relationship between art-making and resilience. Carson Valley is currently in the process of collecting data, using the SEARS (Social Emotional Asset Resilence Scale). However, phenomenological data indicates success through participant and staff feedback, and strongly suggests that CVCA is already making an impact.
One student stated: "I learned that everything may not be my fault. I got it out, my heart healed."