To help our youth heal from gun violence, give them better access to the arts


How can students deal with their pain, anger and trauma due to gun violence?

In 2021, 57 Chicago school-aged children died of gun violence, up from 49 in 2020, as the Sun-Times recently reported. Also in 2020, dozens of 18-year-olds, some recently graduated and others still in school, were victims of armed violence.

There is no doubt that Chicago students face the trauma of gun violence, which has been compounded by the continuing threat of COVID-19 and the school disruptions caused by the pandemic.

To help students cope with the trauma of gun violence, many school administrators provide access to therapists, psychiatrists and social workers. They offer screaming break rooms and Peace Circles to share their feelings to support teens – and their parents, too – as they deal with their frustrations and grief.

Another way to help young people is the arts. Chicago schools have struggled for years to offer programs rich in music, drama, visual arts, and literature. Such programs are needed more than ever.

Young people traumatized by gun violence would benefit from increased access to the arts, both in schools and in their communities, as a means of healing. Recent research shows that exposure to the arts can help children and young people cope better, express themselves creatively and regain their joy.

According to National Endowment for the Arts 2020 Arts Education Data Toolkit, Studies have shown that the arts can boost students’ communication and critical thinking skills, support their social and emotional development, nurture their creativity, and improve their performance in school.

A feeling of optimism

Despite the benefits of arts education, lack of funding has long been a major obstacle. In Chicago’s high schools, access to in-depth art education fell from 64% in 2017-18 to just 60% in 2018-19. the arts budget in CPS schools decreased in 2019-2020 compared to 2018-2019. The median budget per student for arts programs and materials in high schools has increased from $ 9.29 to $ 8.73; in elementary schools, it went from $ 6.58 to $ 5.56.

Ingenuity, a non-profit organization established a decade ago to fund, support and research arts education at CPS, reported in its 2018-2019 annual report that 35% of students – mostly black and low-income – do not have “consistent access to high-quality arts education.”

There is ample evidence that increased access would help our young people.

In a study conducted by the New Victory Theater Spark Change program in nine New York City schools from 2014 to 2019, researchers found that participating students “not only deepened their empathy and creative thinking – (but) built also a sense of optimism about what the future holds. . “

After a year in New Victory’s arts education program, student scores on future guidance measures increased by more than 10%, compared to a 5% decline among students who did not participate. In other words, as the group’s report indicates, providing strong performing arts programs is a way to “create hope” in young people.

Another recent study of young Syrian refugees who had lived in the United States for about a year showed that a 12-week art therapy program helped them develop coping skills and reduce stress.

Chicago is starting to “get it”, it seems. In 2020, the National Youth Art Movement Against Armed Violence was established here as the first nonprofit dedicated to using a combination of arts activism, commercial billboards and augmented reality technology to support artistic creation in response to gun violence . Young people aged 13 to 28 will create interactive and mobile works of art that express the impact of gun violence. In the long term, the vision is to expand the project to other cities, eventually creating a national cohort of young artist-activists against gun violence.

When young people have the opportunity to pick up an instrument, choreograph a dance, paint a mural, or write their generation’s song of forgiveness and hope, they are likely to feel less hopelessness and a more positive connection.

As our schools look for ways to help young people heal from trauma, it is important to remember the arts. Better access to arts education can help many of our young people cope and heal in the midst of chaos.

Diane Claussen is responsible for theater management and assistant professor at the Theater School at DePaul University and a Public Voices member of the OpEd project.

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About Bernice D. Brewer

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