“We see full-on art and music engagement as tools for academic re-engagement,” said Joey Cienian, director of educational programming at HSRA.
For other HSRA students, the recording studio becomes a learning lab where they create brilliant poetry, compose music or play an instrument.
“When talking about their mental health, our students can’t always say, ‘This is how I’m feeling,’ because they’ve been hurt by people in positions of power,” explains Cienian. Engaging in music and art is one way the kids can self-soothe.
(Rap artist Nimic Revenue is a recent graduate of HRSA)
While it might sound unconventional, music has been used as a form of medicine for decades. Thousands of years ago, the Greeks believed the soft, melodic sounds of the flute could heal physical illnesses like gout and sciatica. More recently, music has found its place in the classroom, helping students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit Disorder.
At HSRA, music and art allow students to share their narratives. “We want our students to embrace their authenticity, which can come from tapping into creative expression,” says Cienian.
He adds that many HSRA students aren’t comfortable discussing their hardships, but they’re ready to enter the studio and make beats or record a track.
“Recently, a student felt uneasy telling his teachers and counselors about his mental health concerns and family history,” shares Cienian. Instead, he went to the recording studio and began writing rap lyrics in a notebook.
A teacher walked by and saw the student. Taking the opportunity to connect, they sat together while the student shared his writing, which illuminated the family chaos and mental health symptoms he was experiencing.
“After the meeting, the teacher had a better sense of the student’s needs, which made it easier to add additional emotional and academic support,” says Cienian. For this student, the connection was healing because he felt understood, not judged.
Cienian shares that HSRA teachers and faculty strive to bring students into a program where respect, community and education are valued. “They’re simple values, but they’re profound in action. And when students find their voice, it’s empowering,” he adds.