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Our Future after the Fire: Using art to treat trauma

Educators in Butte County are turning to the arts to help students impacted by the Camp Fire work through trauma

Posted: Sep 27, 2019 9:30 AM
Updated: Sep 27, 2019 10:32 AM

MAGALIA, Calif. – What might be the long-term, emotional impacts of the Camp Fire on young people?

Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough asks that question in Our Future after the Fire. She visited Magalia to learn how one program is turning to the arts for healing.

No one knows for certain how different people are coping with Camp Fire losses. But local educators are now taking proactive steps to offer teens an emotional outlet and they are asking community artists to step in to help.

Many students at Ridgeview High School in Magalia, have been directly impacted by the fire. Almost 11 months later, most are still processing various levels of loss.

16-year-old Patrick Tyler-Addams says the roof of her family’s home collapsed. She says for several days, the family did know whether her father had made it out of the fire alive.

She says art allows her to express herself and cope with many of the emotions she is feeling. She describes driving through Magalia and seeing the scorched landscape as a painful experience that makes her sad.

Art instructor Jessie Mercer is the founder of Butte County Art on Wheels. Working through a grant, she brings her creative talents directly into the classroom, to work one-on-one with students. The theory behind such a partnership is to give students an outlet for expression which can help them move through trauma.

Student Kaitlin Wammes says the fire took everything from her, including her home and pets. She says she feels as if a big piece of her life is now gone, saying she has since suffered from severe depression, anxiety, and anger. She says the art class helps her find some level of peace to move through her days.

The same concept in the Magalia classroom is set to expand for Paradise schools for the 2020 spring school season. It is called Trauma Informed Teaching Artists in the Schools.

Jennifer Spangler is with the Butte County Office of Education. She says the call is now out for qualified, trained artists to apply for the program.

The concept allows for trained artists to work side-by-side in the classrooms with teachers, to then collaborate on incorporating art into regular classroom curriculum on a regular basis.

Spangler says the program combines the skills of an artists in teaching, with traditional educators to help teachers, students and by default, the entire community.

The program being put in place by Butte County is fashioned after a similar plan in Sonoma County, created after wildfires that devastated that region.

While educators say they do not know whether the long-term impacts of the program will prove positive, the program manager for the Sonoma-based art program, Debbie Yarrow, says, “Creative Sonoma’s trauma-informed teaching artist residencies have provided k-12 students with empowering lessons in the arts that build resilience and create joy. Both students and teachers have benefitted from these residences that create unique, hands-on opportunities to increase self-esteem, decrease depression and reduce stress.”
That seems to be the case with the program artist Mercer is offering.

Student Faith Sanchez describes her artwork as a way to express who she is. She says she has the best time of her entire school week, while in class.

Those interested in the Trauma Informed Teaching Artists in the Schools Program, there is a day-long training workshop scheduled for Saturday, October 19, 2019. There are currently nine spaces open and the need is for teaching artists in theatre, music, and dance.

To sign up, CLICK HERE

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