Studio to School

The Arts: A Contributor to Trauma Informed Practices

Eastwood Elementary, one of six Hillsboro schools piloting trauma informed practices helping students become more resilient and able to learn.

Rich in culture and tapping into the best of it might be a way to describe the Eastwood Elementary community.  Our K-6 dual language, Title 1 school is tucked into a neighborhood that sits between the Hillsboro Airport, Washington County Fairgrounds, and downtown Hillsboro.  Once an area of mostly single family homes, the demographics have changed over time with more apartments and low income complexes.  Students arrive at the school needing a place to love and nurture them as well as teach them.  60% are Latino families with 42% of the students being language learners.  All students receive free breakfast and lunch.

This year, Eastwood became one of six schools in Hillsboro piloting trauma informed practices for students experiencing trauma in their lives to help them become more resilient and thus be able to learn more.  The needs of our community are great, and bringing in culturally relevant arts integration and artists is a part of the work we do to engage all learners.

Our project aims to bring professional artists into classrooms to work with teachers to deepen and enrich learning.  Both artists and teachers go to staff development trainings to learn how to better use the arts to teach required content.  Eastwood is in its second year of whole school implementation of The Right Brain Initiative.  The first year, two classrooms had stop motion animation tied in with their social studies units on the Oregon Trail.  Last year, Aaron Nigel Smith shared music and movement with all grade levels centered on the text, Let’s Talk About Race.

Artist Lulu Moon Murakami strives to engage English learners and other students whose primary mode of learning is other than verbal.

This year, Eastwood was fortunate to hire visual artist Lulu Moonwood Murakami as its Artist in Residence for grades 3-6. Lulu worked in Beaverton in a dual language program for many years at a school that is similar to ours. It was important to the staff that the artist not only had extensive experience as a visual artist, but also had a positive classroom management approach that matches trauma informed practices.

In grades 3-4, Lulu and teachers designed an art experience around the guiding question: “How do you persevere when times get tough?” Students examined the anchor text Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes as part of their residency. The students started by creating a clay figurine of themselves. They paid special attention to adding details that make them unique. Eventually, each student created a shadow box with paper and cardboard pieces. On one side of the box, they created a window that showed a symbol of a challenge they have had in their lives. On the other side of the box, they drew a symbol of a person or item that helps them overcome their challenge. They added an origami lantern, like the cranes that Sadako folded, to the top of their shadow boxes. Once complete, the shadow boxes showed a complete room where the students can go to feel inspired or safe.

As I was helping in a classroom, Isla called me over to her desk. This energetic, curly haired girl has moved more than three times in less than a year.  When we heard she was coming back to Eastwood this year, teachers were a bit concerned as her behavior had started to escalate last year.

Fourth grader Isla proudly displays her shadow box including a symbol of her greatest challenge and something/someone to help her overcome it.

“What’s up, Isla?” I walked over to her desk in the center of the classroom.

“I really want to show you my room,” she said excitedly. “Please take a picture, too.”

Isla then began describing in detail her safe room. She talked about how she doesn’t get to see her mom very often and that made her very sad. I found out later that Isla’s mom sent the kids to live with their Grandma in Oregon and she stayed in Texas.  Isla has a brother in fourth grade. She has never mentioned her dad.

Isla also described in detail how a blue jay is her symbol of hope. Isla told me a story about how she saw this bird the other day, and how she felt a sense of calm and hope because of this sighting.

This project gave inspiration and light to a little girl dealing with more trauma than most of us can even name. Academics are hard for Isla, but she was able to put such detail and care into her project, thus strengthening her understanding of not only ELA CCSS and Core Arts Standards, but more about resiliency strategies that will follow her the rest of her life.

The Hillsboro/RACC project has continually made the child the center of our focus.  Studio to School Principle 5 really sums up the vital parts of our project:  “Respond continuously and equitably to student, teacher, school, family and community needs and histories; build on existing strengths.”  Our goal is to engage our very diverse learners in meaningful ways.  What Isla needs now in her life is a safe place where she can not only learn, but flourish.  This connection with an artist and teacher is giving her that opportunity.  The rest of the story has yet to be written as she continues to learn in this caring community.

Written by Ally Bowlsby and Janis Hill.

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