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Help for Stoneman Douglas Students—With a Baltimore Connection

Credit Provided by Jane Bloom
From left, Jane Bloom, Jessica Asch and Meagan Lopez, who graduated together from Baltimore School For the Arts in 2000, helped create and run an arts therapy camp for survivors of the Parkland school shooting. They're wearing T-shirts that display the logo for the foundation Shine MSD.

Some student survivors of the February high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., spent the summer getting therapy in the form of music, theater and art activities.

Camp Shine, a free arts therapy program, was held at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — and later, at a middle school next door — in Parkland. But the glue connecting the people behind the scenes was Baltimore.

Three women who graduated together from Baltimore School for the Arts in 2000 helped create and run the camp, which served about 80 students in three two-week sessions of music, drama and visual arts therapy.

Two others involved with the camp are alumni of Johns Hopkins University, including a researcher who is studying the camp's effectiveness at treating depression, anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Obviously, Baltimore is a city for that, for a long, long time, has been affected by gun violence," said Jane Bloom, co-director of Camp Shine. Bloom is an Annapolis native who attended the Baltimore arts high school and now splits her time between that city and Los Angeles.

"A lot of us felt like, this is the thing that we can help with," she said. “Oh my God, we can actually do something.”

Bloom, who produces television documentaries, has a cousin who is a graduate of Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were murdered and 17 others injured on Feb. 14. Her cousin asked her to help make a music video for a song called "Shine," which was written by two Parkland students in the days following the massacre.

Bloom asked her friend and former high school classmate, Meagan Lopez, to help promote the song on social media. Lopez, who lives in Paris, does digital advertising for the New York Times.

"Shine" took off, earning accolades from the likes of Paul McCartney and Britney Spears. The students who wrote and performed it — Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña — sold it on iTunes to raise money for a foundation they started called Shine MSD. They wanted to use the proceeds from their song to help their community continue to heal through art.

Bloom and Lopez helped them come up with the plan for Camp Shine.

"Somehow, … all of these Baltimore pieces came together to work with Shine MSD," Bloom said.

Having grown up as performers, they knew how powerful art could be in helping people, especially children, get through difficult times, Lopez said.

"High school is tough in and of itself," Lopez said. "Without Baltimore School for the Arts — and without the arts in general — I would be a completely different person."

Lopez had stayed close with another one of their classmates, Jessica Asch, now a drama therapist in New York City who works with kids involved in the juvenile justice system, people struggling with substance abuse issues and Holocaust survivors.

So they asked her to get involved, too. Bloom and Asch hadn't seen each other in nearly two decades.

"Jane called me and was like, 'Would you be able to come up here and design a program about how to help heal and process with the community?'" Asch said. She said, “You're kidding,” then designed the curriculum for Camp Shine and worked directly with the campers, providing drama therapy.

She said the kids showed up on the first day looking like shells, void of emotion.

"There's a stuckness. There's a dissociated look that happens to people who are recently traumatized. So it's basically like they're not in their bodies," Asch said. "They've left their bodies, because their bodies aren't safe anymore.

"And that's what trauma does. It disconnects you from your body and your emotions and your heart," she said. "Our job is to put everybody back together."

Asch said she saw students transform throughout the process.

"By the end, we were laughing and crying and connecting and sharing, and they were connected back," she said.

Bloom's partner in directing the camp was Angela Malley, a Stoneman Douglas graduate who got a master's degree in public health at Johns Hopkins. She wanted to use entertainment and the arts to fight violence and decrease stigma around mental illness.

Malley remembers watching an interview with David Hogg, one of the survivors and a recent graduate who has become a national gun control advocate. Years before Hogg was a student journalist at Stoneman Douglas, Malley had been involved in television production at the school. She says he reminded her of herself.

"I could have been that kid, but I didn't have to be," she said. "When I was in high school, I didn't have to do news interviews. I didn't have to fight for gun legislation. I didn't have to go to 17 different memorials.”

Malley, who lives in Baltimore now, wants Camp Shine to become a national model that can be replicated. She believes the camp could show the benefit of using creative arts therapy for students who've experienced trauma in schools throughout the country. So she wanted to gather data to make that case.

And that’s where the other Johns Hopkins connection comes in. Emily Hylton, a classmate of Malley’s at Hopkins, was pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Miami, about fifty miles south of Parkland. Malley brought Hylton, who is specializing in trauma psychology, into the fold. She worked with a professor on a study of whether Camp Shine helped improve students' symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD.

She says the early results are promising, but she plans to do a follow-up survey with the students after three months.

"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," Hylton said.

After the first session, the staff headed home for a weeklong break. And that was when Bloom got a small taste of what the Stoneman Douglas students had been through.

When she landed in Baltimore and turned on her phone, her social media feeds were full of friends posting about another shooting. They declared: "Annapolis strong."

Five people had been killed and two others injured by a gunman who blasted his way into the Capital Gazette newsroom on June 28. The Capital, the hometown paper she grew up with.

"Here's four girls from Baltimore who got together to help Parkland, and, then — boom! In our own backyard,” she said.

"I suddenly felt like I had a tiny bit more understanding what it must be like for the parents or the kids who live this every day" in Parkland, she said. "They can't leave and go home."

Bloom and the others returned after the shooting at the Capital with strengthened resolve to help the students still struggling in the aftermath of their own tragedy. And judging from an interview with at least one student, it seems to be helping.

Kayli, 14, a new freshman who attended the middle school next door to Stoneman Douglas last year, said she found the camp's activities to be “healing.”

We're not using her last name to protect her privacy, because Camp Shine's primary purpose was to provide mental health treatment.

"It's relaxing, it's calming, and it kind of takes our minds off things," said Kayli, who attended the second session of Camp Shine and enjoyed it so much, she decided to stay for the third.

"We're still kind of upset about the whole thing, and we have the right to be," she said, "but I think this is really gonna help us. It already has helped us."

Shine MSD — the foundation that runs Camp Shine — is now fundraising for next summer's sessions.

"Assuming everything goes well," Lopez said, "the Baltimore contingent will come back in full force."