How can schools create a healing environment in their classrooms—with a trauma-informed lens? Students in the small town of Glen Ellen, like many in California, were affected first by wildfires and then by the social isolation of the pandemic. Teachers needed a way to build students’ resilience and self-regulation skills back up. Their solution? Partnering with—and getting training from—local arts organizations, including Kimzin Creative and Sonoma Community Center, to help students learn how to express themselves and collaborate with each other again.
Two years in, Dunbar Elementary School relies on their trauma-informed arts program to boost students’ confidence and release their anxieties. The school brings in local artists to teach lessons that emphasize creativity and self-expression over technique—giving students a brain break and providing a place where they can feel a sense of calm. The program is supported with funds raised by local nonprofit Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Teachers say that since the program began, classroom engagement has soared.
To see more research on using arts interventions for healing and stress reduction in the classroom, check out the resources below:
- Linda Morison, Laura Simonds, and Sarah-Jane F. Stewart's systematic review of research on the impact of creative arts–based intervention for treating children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events (2022)
- Camille Farrington, Jenny Nagaoka, Elizabeth Weiss, Joseph Maurer, Jessica Puller, Lindsay Wright, Meredith R. Aska McBride, and Steve Shewfelt’s report on arts education and social and emotional learning outcomes among K–12 students (2019)
- Kayleigh A. Abbott, Matthew J. Shanahan, and Richard W. J. Neufeld’s research on the impact of art-making for stress reduction (2013)
- Sarajane L. Eisen, Roger S. Ulrich, Mardelle M. Shepley, James W. Varni, and Sandra Sherman’s study on using art to reduce stress in pediatric health care (2008)
Discover more about how art can transform the classroom in Elizabeth Peterson’s article for Edutopia “Encouraging Social and Emotional Learning Through the Arts” and Lori Desautels’s article “Using Art to Help Students Find Their Calm.”
Editor’s Note: Since this video was published, we have learned that Dunbar Elementary School did not reopen in fall 2023 due to low enrollment. For more context, read this editorial in local newspaper, the Press Democrat.