It has been well-documented that students who participate in the arts experience benefits in every aspect of their academic lives. This is due to how music, dance, drawing, and other expressive and creative processes affect and balance brain development. Science has also supported theories of how the arts benefit societies, at large. Studies have shown that high levels of arts enrichment lead people to greater participation in their communities and more interest in what is happening in the world around them. The arts also lead to more tolerance and altruism, no matter the person’s background.
There is a research-based program called “Beat the Odds” that is working to create positive development and social change through the arts. It integrates contemporary drum circle activities and group counseling in order to teach youth, in particular, focus and listening skills, team building, positive risk taking, leadership, empathy, emotional expression, and gratitude. The overall objective is to use drumming to build social-emotional skills and community within elementary school students. The program also highlights and facilitates the importance of building these skills and community among the adults involved.
“Beat the Odds” was initially implemented with low-income fifth-grade students and the program's success has resulted in its use among special needs children, as well. While students only participate in the program for eight (8) weeks at a time, they are gifted with a lifetime of social-emotional skills without having to endure the potentially stifling stigma of therapy. The program is based upon a study that compared classrooms of fifth graders receiving drumming sessions and their peers who continued to receive only their standard education. At the end of twelve (12) weeks, the teachers of the drumming students reported lower levels of problem behaviors as wells as diminished signs of anxiety, depression, inattention, and other specific behaviors related to emotional stress.
The “Beat the Odds” program presents a wonderful method for helping create positive development and social change through the arts. Any arts program with this agenda should:
- Focus upon the process of creative expression
- Include opportunities for reflection and sharing
- Target underserved upper-elementary aged children
- Serve whole classrooms at a time
- Include teachers as participants
- Involve multiple experts in the program’s development
- Evaluate the program as it’s developed
- Develop a script, audio/visual materials, and training
- Design the program so that anyone can deliver it
- Develop public-private relationships
Using these guidelines and information from the numerous studies on how the arts cultivate human development, we are better prepared to utilize and design programs that foster positive development and social change through the arts. With a drum and a desire to improve the world, we can all help each other “beat the odds”.