New London schools to address trauma with music

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) — The school district has hired a board-certified music therapist for a new program at the middle school focused on reaching high-risk students who have experienced significant trauma.

The Beyond Trauma — Youth Music Therapy program is aimed at what the school district said in a statement is the growing needs of students. It will give students the opportunity to play, compose, record, analyze and listen to music from different genres. No previous musical experience is necessary to be successful in the program.

The initiative is made possible by The Michael Bolton Charities, an organization founded in 1993 to respond to issues that adversely affect children and women at risk, including domestic and street violence, poverty, abuse, neglect, homelessness and human trafficking.

In 2017, The Michael Bolton Charities established The Andie Koplik Residency in Music Therapy program in honor of the late Andie Koplik, who dedicated her life to education and her students. The Beyond Trauma-Youth Music Therapy and the Andie Koplik Residency in Music Therapy programs began in the New Haven school district in 2015 and will be replicated at the Bennie Dover Jackson Multi-Magnet Middle School Campus, formerly known as Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School.

Maureen Bransfield, the New London school district's director of culture and climate — a new position created by Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie — started this program while she was principal at a school in New Haven. The program, monitored and evaluated by the nationally renowned Clifford Beers Child Guidance Clinic, is housed at Riverside Academy in New Haven.

"The Beyond Trauma program has demonstrated that it can effectively reach the most traumatized students, profoundly influencing their social, emotional, and academic well-being," Jackie Smaga, executive director of The Michael Bolton Charities, said in a statement. "We appreciate the opportunity to now work with students at the BDJ Multi-Magnet Middle School Campus."

The program "meets kids where they are, and builds from there," Smaga said in the statement. Data reflects that students' post-traumatic stress symptoms are reduced, their attendance and behavior are improved, along with attitudes and outlook. They start to learn that they have the power to transform their emotional state.

Courtney Biddle, a board-certified music therapist, has been hired as the music wellness intervention specialist to lead this program at Bennie Dover. It is a part-time, grant-funded position.

"Given where these young people have been, where they are after participation in the music therapy sessions is remarkable, and tremendously encouraging," singer-songwriter Michael Bolton said in a statement. "Young people who have known a daily barrage of heartbreak, trauma, violence, adversity and tragedy are beginning to believe in themselves. Music is allowing them to become engaged, and to speak in a way that they have never been able to. That is the healing power of music."

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