Faculty and graduate students at the Counseling and Mental Health Professions Clinic (CMHP) demonstrated the healing power of art at two Long Island schools where children were asked to send illustrated messages of love and support to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The Parkland, Florida, school lost 17 students and staff members in a senseless 2018 shooting.
As the first anniversary of the tragedy recently approached, CMHP Clinical Supervisor Susan Boxer Kappel met with the principals of the California Avenue Elementary School in Uniondale and John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore. Kappel proposed an art therapy project that would connect the schools with the Parkland community. Hundreds of students in each of the two Long Island schools would illustrate 6”x6” adhesive tiles with messages of friendship and support. Those tiles then served as the building blocks of two murals that were later mailed to Parkland as part of an art exchange program.
“How can we help others recover from a disaster? A community art exchange is an uplifting, positive, safe way to connect,” Kappel said. “Natural and human-made disasters have a profound impact, and those affected need to know they are not alone.”
Kappel noted that John F. Kennedy High School has special ties to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. “Students from both schools attend summer sleepaway camps in upstate New York like Chipinaw and Lokanda. This connection presented an opportunity to increase bonds between our communities.”
Kappel’s partner in this endeavor was Aimee Jette, a master’s student in Hofstra’s Creative Arts Therapy Counseling, who is president and CEO of Art in Common, Inc., a Connecticut-based 501(c)(3) that promotes creativity and increases community awareness around important social issues. Art in Common helped provide funding for the murals.
The tiles decorated by the Long Island students urged the Parkland teenagers to “Stay Strong,” “Have Hope,” and “Be the Difference.” Jette said she hopes the Stoneman Douglas community finds a small measure of comfort in the murals and in their heartfelt messages of friendship and compassion. “Often, when I see the students, they ask about the Parkland community. They feel connected in a way they didn’t before.”
“We believe there is power in numbers and in being remembered,” said Jette. “This project also empowered the students here, teaching them that art can generate hope and aid in the healing process.”
The artwork received a warm reception upon its arrival in Parkland, where the Stoneman Douglas Art Department reassembled the tiles into murals and banners. The Parkland students have also been invited to incorporate the tiles into flipbooks as part of the exchange with the Long Island schools. The project has also been shared with local advisory boards and cultural and city leaders in Florida. For more information or to participate in a similar project, contact the Counseling and Mental Health Professions Clinic (CMHP) or email Kappel directly at email@example.com.