Supporting Student Wellness Through the Arts

Following increased concerns about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting students’ mental health and wellness, we gathered information and resources to help education leaders support students. In this final post of our student mental health series, authors explore the connection between arts education and student wellness.

By May of this year, an estimated 55.1 million K-12 students participated in virtual learning because of COVID-19. For some students, the shift disrupted access to educators, behavioral health staff, emotional supports and other components of in-school learning that support students’ overall wellness.

Nationally, arts education and education organizations have released resources that provide guidance for schools, districts and states as they respond to the needs of students, families and educators. Let’s take a closer look at how the arts can support student wellness.

Prioritize Trauma-Informed Teaching and Support Healing

Recent guidance from the Council of Chief State School Officers suggests that indicators of trauma can inform the development of appropriate assessments, interventions and policies to support positive outcomes for students. Trauma-informed approaches, including those that integrate the arts, recognize the signs of trauma, incorporate understandings of trauma into practices and seek to prevent re-traumatization. Arts education and integration provides an outlet for students to process their emotions from disaster and trauma to begin the healing process and build resiliency.

Support Students’ Mental Health

In a child’s early years, participation in the arts can have positive impacts on their cognitive development. Music instruction can help youths improve their self-efficacy and self-esteem, and can provide opportunities to develop relationship-building skills and form new perceptions about themselves and their communities. The benefits of arts participation can also help educators strengthen their self-efficacy and support positive personal transformations.

Build Strong Social and Emotional Competencies

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning released guidance for schools and districts to create a foundation for SEL that focuses on emotional safety and secure relationships as fundamental alongside academics. Social and emotional competencies enhance students’ self-management, self-awareness, social awareness and relationship skills, and support responsible decision-making. The arts offer unique opportunities to support SEL skills such as emotional regulation, personal aspirations and compassion for others, which can effectively engage students facing higher levels of personal trauma or distress.

Create a Collaborative Learning Environment

Collaboration between classroom teachers, teaching artists and arts specialists can lead to strengthened connections between schools and the communities they serve. Communication between families and schools is an increasingly important component for overall student success especially while many schools are using remote learning. Arts education and arts integration can encourage the involvement of students, parents, teachers and staff to promote in-person and remote learning environments that positively impact student wellness.

Education leaders can consider the following strategies to include arts education as a core component of student wellness:

Provide Arts-Based Professional Development: Schools may consider including arts teachers or external arts organizations to lead and coordinate professional development opportunities. The Maryland Centers for Creative Classrooms is a collaboration between the Maryland Department of Education Fine Arts Office, Arts Education in Maryland Schools and the Maryland State Arts Council that provides research-based professional development support to arts teachers, arts-integration teachers and teaching artists.

Work With Art Therapists: Schools can engage licensed arts therapists as a part of behavioral health teams to provide a schoolwide trauma-informed approach. Educators can incorporate trauma-informed teaching practices within their classrooms and familiarize themselves with signs and symptoms of trauma.

As senior project manager for the Arts Education Partnership, Mary oversees project work plans and supports the development of AEP deliverables. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, she worked for the Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance, where she served in a variety of capacities in programming, administration and policy. With over 20 years of dance training, Mary is passionate about the arts and education.

As a project manager, Cassandra contributes to reports and publications for the Arts Education Partnership and provides support for AEP convenings. Prior to this position, she worked as a communications specialist at Education Commission of the States and AEP. With an educational background in art history and a strong belief in the transformational qualities of learning, Cassandra is passionate about her work and dedicated to sharing research and resources on the arts in education with stakeholders across the country.
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