Teens Use Art as Coping Skill, Engage Reading Material

Last week, our peer-leadership program at Waltham High School held an event called “Speak our Strength: Expressing Ourselves through Art.” The event took place in the library at Waltham Public High School and was hosted by the Waltham PAVE (Peers Against ViolencE) Peer Leader group.

The event was loosely based around Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, the summer reading book that all Waltham High School students were assigned to read for the school’s “One School, One Story” reading initiative. In the book the main character, Melinda, uses art as a way to regain her voice after a sexual assault. Although the workshop was not specifically centered on trauma response, we planned the activity as a skill building, expressive, and reflective process similar to that of Melinda’s.

The goal of this open meeting was to find healthy and alternative ways to express oneself and cope with trauma or other stressors in life. Twenty-three students participated in the event, which encouraged them to think about words that they live by (inspired by this blog at www.expressiveartworkshops.com). Teens had the option to choose a coloring page with an inspirational message, write their own quotation, or decorate a page with quotations they chose from ones we provided. This type of activity is important because teens are in a stage of life where they are working to define themselves and their identities, and words are one way to dothat. The students were actively engaged in the activity and although many came into the activity feeling stressed or tired, most expressed feeling calm and content at the end. REACH’s Youth Education Specialist Molly Pistrang facilitated the event, along with our Child and Adolescent Therapist, Catalina, who specializes in art therapy.

Part of REACH’s Prevention Team is a youth-focused dating violence prevention program (Peers Against ViolencE or “PAVE”). Active in about a dozen local schools, the youth educator provides classroom-based work, training and technical assistance for faculty, staff, and parents, and support for peer leadership activities, depending on the needs of the school.