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To Cope With Shooting, Parkland Students Use Art, Music Therapy


All right. This week marks six months since a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., killed 17 people. This week is also when students are heading back to school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Some students spent the summer getting group therapy through art and music. The foundation that ran that summer camp hopes to spread this idea to other places that suffered school shootings. Jessica Bakeman of member station WLRN has more.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So, ladies and gentleman, are we ready?

JESSICA BAKEMAN, BYLINE: About a dozen students are standing around a microphone for their recording session. First, they lay down the beat with claps and stomps.


BAKEMAN: Then vocals.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) Sun rises, dew drops falling from the trees.

BAKEMAN: The only reason I'm allowed to sit in on this songwriting workshop is because technically it's after hours. The regular sessions of Camp Shine are confidential. The counselors are actually counselors, not just in the typical summer camp way. They're therapists, and they get kids painting and acting out skits and singing to process their trauma after the February school shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) I can shine like a firefly, in the night sky, in the sky tonight.

BAKEMAN: During the summer camp, 80 Marjory Stoneman Douglas students got group therapy disguised as music, theater and art activities, like painting both sides of a mask, the outside portraying the face they show the world and the inside, their true self.

KAYLI: All of the art and the music we do, it's really healing. It's relaxing. It's calming. And it kind of takes our minds off things.

BAKEMAN: Kayli is 14, a new freshman. Last year, she attended the middle school right next door to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. We're not using her last name to protect her privacy.

KAYLI: Sure. We're still kind of upset about the whole thing. And we have the right to be. But I think this is really going to help us.

BAKEMAN: There's already some evidence that the camp did help.

GAIL IRONSON: There are reductions in post-traumatic symptoms, which we're very encouraged by.

BAKEMAN: Dr. Gail Ironson the University of Miami is studying the camp's effectiveness at treating depression, anxiety and symptoms of PTSD. She'll do a follow-up survey with campers after three months. This is her doctoral student, Emily Hylton.

EMILY HYLTON: If the intervention works for two weeks and then it fades again after a week, it's not nearly as valuable as if it holds on into the fall, especially as these students go back to school.

BAKEMAN: The researchers plan to publish their findings in hopes of helping other communities that have endured school shootings. The foundation that runs Camp Shine expects to make the curriculum available to schools nationwide. It was designed by Jessica Asch, a drama therapist from New York City who typically works with Holocaust survivors.

JESSICA ASCH: There's a stuckness (ph). There's a dissociated look. And that's what trauma does. Trauma disconnects you from your body. Our job is to put everybody back together.

BAKEMAN: Camp Shine is named for a song written by two Marjory Stoneman Douglas students after the shooting.


SAWYER GARRITY: (Singing) We're not going to let you in. We're putting up a fight. You may have brought the dark. But together we will shine the light in.

BAKEMAN: This is Sawyer Garrity and the composer is Andrea Pena. They sold their song on iTunes to raise money for the camp.


GARRITY: (Singing) We're gonna shine.

BAKEMAN: What the Camp Shine kids came up with during this songwriting workshop reflects what they've been through. This recording was produced in part by a Miami educational nonprofit called The Motivational Edge.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We are going to survive, going through this fight with you by my side.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) This battlefield I'm in. It gave me thicker skin. I'm ready to begin, and I'm sure to win.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #3: (Singing) No one said the dark was quiet. No one said it would be silent.

BAKEMAN: The foundation, called Shine MSD, plans to organize more songwriting workshops throughout the school year. And if they raise enough money, Camp Shine will be back next summer.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #4: (Singing) Going through this fight with you by my side.

BAKEMAN: For NPR News, I'm Jessica Bakeman in Parkland, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ECHELON EFFECT'S "SIGNALS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.