My name is Cammie LePlatt and I am the Transition Coordinator and a counselor at Aztec High School (AHS). I have worked with Christy Clugston since January of 2018, partnering with her as a way to use art as a tool to help students heal, learn, and process emotion. Teachers and counselors connected with volunteers using art as a way for students to process their feelings after the school shooting December 2017 in Aztec. Since then I have continued to partner with her to help individual students or small groups of students as they process fears and emotions either related to the shooting or as a result of traumatic life experiences. At AHS we are finding that most students are just beginning to process their feelings two years later and expect more to the third year. It seems many of our students have some form of PTSD and having the art as a tool to process emotions has been invaluable for many of them that are not able to talk about what happened. There is definite long-term benefit from this because it gives the students a way to continue healing since once they learn, they can continue to draw or paint on their own. It has been especially valuable to those students who would say they are not artistic or “can’t” draw as it gives them a way to share feelings through pictures or colors without anyone judging what they have completed. It also gives them a way to help their peers that are struggling without having to be trained when they can share how they drew about their feelings and suggest a hurting friend do the same.
This type of group art has been a very proactive way to help our students process emotions. According to Edutopia, the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s article, Brains in Pain Cannot Learn!, young people experiencing anxiety or depression are unable to learn. We can overcome this through physical movement, focused attention practices, and teaching them about how brains work. The focused attention and physical activities with the art increases an oxygenated blood and glucose flow to the frontal lobes of the brain where emotional regulation, attention, and problem solving occur. This helps to calm the limbic brain and bring the focus back to learning and reasoning. When we can help students understand that this biology is hardwired to protect us, minds begin to relax through knowing that reactions to negative experiences are natural and common and art in the schools in
this manner (without a grade) gives them a needed outlet. At this time, we plan on partnering with Mrs. Clugston again this semester as we do a Resiliency Rocks! training with our students that are most at-risk for PTSD from the shooting and recent friends’ suicides.