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OK Tornado Project: Kids Receive Trauma Therapy Through Art

Filed by Nikole Robinson Carroll in Feature, Local News, News.
January 13, 2014

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Although kids are young and still have the rest of their lives ahead of them, traumatic events like the devastating tornado that hit Moore in May tend to stick with them, especially if they lost friends in the storm.  As Kate Carlton reports, beginning this week, one group is taking steps to ensure kids get the help they need, without even leaving their school.

Meg Bourne is the founder of ArtFeeds, a non-profit organization based in Joplin, Missouri, which expanded to trauma therapy after an F5 tornado swept through her city in 2011.  She remembers seeing the media coverage from Oklahoma and thinking it was all too familiar.

“On the day of the disaster,” Bourne says, ”it really resonated with us watching all these news stories because it looked exactly like Joplin and what we had experienced in Joplin, and all we could think was, ‘How do we get to those kids?’”

She says Moore’s tornado was all the worse because it happened during the school day when children were there.

“What we continued to say was our worst nightmare we watched happen on the news in Moore,” Bourne says.

So Bourne called Rebecca McLaughlin with Moore Public Schools and arranged to teach a free, twelve-lesson art therapy series to students at the Briarwood and Plaza Towers Elementary Schools, which were destroyed by the tornado.  McLaughlin is the gifted education and fine arts coordinator for the district.  She thinks the program — which starts today — will complement other efforts within the schools, like counseling.

“Art Feeds is a little different because kids will be able to use either art or journaling, drawing, painting to kind of ease some of that anxiety,” McLaughlin says.  “So it’s a little bit of a different approach. But I think it will just be one of the tools that we use as a school system to help those kids who’ve been through so much.”

ArtFeeds trains volunteers to be art educators through a series of videos and lessons from social worker Kimberly Fielding who works at the Ozark Center in Joplin. Fielding says art is powerful for kids dealing with any kind of trauma because it creates something positive out of a child’s worry.

“So art helps redirect that energy, be able to stay focused on what’s creating that anxiety and work through it rather than stuff it somewhere where it can’t be dealt with,” Fielding says.

Though it’s been almost eight months since the tornado destroyed the schools, she thinks starting now may actually be better for the students because they’ve had a chance to process what happened to them.

“It can actually become a way that they can show, ‘Hey, this is where I’ve become strong. This is how I’ve become a stronger person or here’s how I have noticed heroes or I’ve changed my perspectives on things,’” Fielding says.  “They’ve allowed time to be able to identify and recognize those things as well as the uncomfortable aspects of weather is always with us, I need to have a plan and that’s actually a healthy thing.”

The student-to-educator ratio is 4 to 1, so each teacher spends plenty of time with the kids, which is important considering the teams only have 30 minutes once a week with each group of students.  ArtFeeds founder Meg Bourne says the small ratio is critical in art therapy classes.

“When a student is creating and maybe they’re saying things that they might not otherwise say, or drawing something that’s important for an adult to see, if it’s one teacher in a classroom of 25, that’s sometimes hard to catch,” Bourne says.

The 12-week ArtFeeds trauma program is scheduled to end shortly before the next storm season comes.  Moore Public School’s Rebecca McLaughlin says she hopes students will continue to utilize art throughout the year to deal with any kind of emotion they experience.



Funding for the Oklahoma Tornado Project comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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