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HLA House Project: Promoting Music Therapy for Kids With Adverse Childhood Experiences

July 7, 2020

Students in the Health Leadership Apprentice Program, divided into “houses,” work alongside Community-Driven Initiatives to help Central Texas community members address health-related issues. This post is by members of the HLA Green House: Adriana Banchs, Zachary Rickmeyer, Simone Ritchey, Prachi Shah, Rohan Singeetham and Ekta Suri. They worked with Sparks for Success! for their house project.

As members of Green House, we worked with Sparks for Success!, a community partner that provides music therapy and private music lessons to children whose parents have been incarcerated, deported or experienced homelessness. Sparks uses a school-based group music therapy format to cultivate a supportive community for trauma work and social-emotional learning.

We were originally drawn to Sparks’ mission because all of us have experience with music and fine arts programs, making us cognizant of the valuable roles these programs have played in making us who we are today.

Music therapy helps individuals overcome and manage traumatic events they have experienced. Some examples of this intervention at Sparks include writing songs, learning to play instruments and engaging in group music activities. These activities help children process their emotions, build social skills and reinforce positive behavior.

Unfortunately, much of this information is unknown to the public, which has a detrimental effect on fundraising efforts. We proposed projects that could increase awareness for Sparks, such as educational and fundraising videos, a social media campaign and speaking at events in the Austin music community.

The initial stages of the project emphasized spreading awareness of what music therapy is. To inform the general public, we curated and designed graphics for the social media profiles Sparks for Success! maintains. An additional long-term deliverable we began working on was “Draw My Life,” a video in which a narrator tells a story that is simultaneously drawn on a whiteboard, to educate viewers on how music therapy can be an effective means of addressing mental trauma. Finally, we wanted to support the kids’ long-term involvement in Sparks by proposing solutions to common logistical barriers.

By the HLA showcase, we expected to have created more content for the social media campaign and presented the “Draw My Life” video and our research on music therapy and logistics. However, due to the COVID-19 response, we shifted our focus to solely researching ways to increase parental involvement in the program.

Additionally, we have continued creating content for the social media campaign and are working on refining the video script and storyboard. The hope is we’ll be able to film and edit the video once The University of Texas at Austin campus opens again.

Lastly, we hope to propose a plan for a sustainable program of monthly or bimonthly show-and-tell events where students can share with family members what they learned during their lessons, along with their classmates. Ultimately, these events would aim to motivate music therapy students and encourage parental involvement in the healing process.

From working on this project, we learned that community engagement requires the consideration of logistics, liability and feasibility. Professional communication and self-driven progress toward the goals were key skills in moving forward.

Further, members found a personal motivation for doing this. As undergraduate students, we usually work on class projects that imitate real-world situations but don’t typically have bearing on much besides GPA. It was particularly rewarding to see our work going toward something that affects people in Austin, especially an organization with a mission as important as Sparks’. At times when the challenges of college and adulthood were novel and trying, we reminded each other of this, supported each other and held ourselves accountable for our individual roles, recognizing that the project’s progress was ultimately up to us.

We each benefited greatly through our participation in the HLA program, particularly in this house project. It has given us the opportunity to work closely with a motivated and diversely talented group of people. From working with Dell Medical School staff and our community partner to each other, this past semester was a tremendously positive and enriching experience.

The project provided us a new perspective on public health best gained through direct collaboration with a community partner. There was no clear path, no predefined or simple solution on how to approach our goals. However, there was an abundance of suggestions, and Dell Med staff and HLA coordinators helped guide us and answer questions as we worked our way toward a solution. We are all thankful for the people who helped us along the way and for the opportunities provided by Dell Med.