I’ve always appreciated the power art and music have to create emotional experiences in young people’s lives. There is a difference between experiencing art and making art. Most students I work with haven’t created significant art projects. In fact, a lot of them don’t believe that they can create meaningful art when they first enter my classroom.
The first challenge, we face together, is to build some confidence in their drawing potential. This starts with basic sketching skills and moves into some basic art skills. The exciting part is when the student completes their first art project. I’ve seen noticeable changes in emotional regulation and confidence as the students share their artwork with peers and caregivers. This is by far the most rewarding part of my job. Many students that come to Heritage have very low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. When they see a tangible manifestation of their worth and ability, it literally gives them something to live for. Many of our students continue art-making when they leave Heritage.
One of our former students came into my art class on the first day and told me that she hates art and was upset that she had to take an art class. I worked with her for about a month before she started to show some interest. She began to show me her sketchbook every day and asked for some suggestions. After a couple of months, she began to show some real passion for art when we began landscape painting. She loved it. Before long her parents sent her a set of paints and some canvas. Her relationship with her parents improved and she couldn’t wait to send her landscape paintings home. Her parents had them framed. Her emotional well-being changed right before my eyes and it touched my heart to have the opportunity to share my passion with a young person and see it change their life. I later heard that she was taking painting classes at a community college since leaving Heritage.
The arts are often marginalized in public schools due to the emphasis placed on the core but in a treatment center setting, art and music are seen as a powerful part of therapy. I believe that public schools would see a big difference in the lives of at-risk students if they would place the same importance on the arts as treatment center schools do.