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Empower Generations’ iPERFORM Embraces the Arts in Trauma-Informed Learning


High-quality project-based learning begins with learners addressing real-world problems. Typically, we look externally for problems to address. However, we can also start internally. Learners at Empower Generations are doing just that, addressing trauma and building resiliency, with an arts project called iPERFORM, Putting Emotional Resources First: Our Resiliency Matters

iPERFORM is a revolutionary approach being designed by the learners who will use the arts as a way to share their stories and ultimately inform, educate and inspire others, according to Arts Coordinator Sara McDaniels. 

“These are going to be learner-created projects,” McDaniels said. “Through workshops, we will empower them with the skills to tell their stories.”

Trauma-Informed Learning/Social-Emotional Learning

We are in a traumatic period in history, especially for young people, and McDaniels believes that the arts are an ideal means for learners to address trauma and increase their emotional intelligence. 

“People are realizing the social-emotional power of the arts,” McDaniels said. “The arts are also well suited to provide positive, healthy ways for learners to communicate and collaborate.”

Project-Based Learning (PBL) Connections

There are many connections between project-based learning and the arts. 

For example: learning to receive constructive feedback is a skill that we all need to develop,” said McDaniels. “The arts are a safe place to hear the feedback and not take it personally.”

In addition, arts integration connects learners to the future world of work, according to McDaniels. “The arts are a great way to assess the skills that our world and workforce demand,” McDaniels said. “Creating art teaches learners to problem-solve and look for solutions.” 

Finally, McDaniels said that the arts are a great channel for developing one’s voice and self-regulation — necessary skills in today’s fast-paced world filled with challenges. “These learners have unique experiences that are valuable to them, their children, their communities and their futures,” McDaniels said. “Their futures are our futures and we need to all learn from these stories and performances.”

The Players

In addition to McDaniels, key Empower Generations staff members are excited about this powerful way to implement the arts in social-emotional learning and trauma-informed education. Staff member Jeanette Chadwick and her team welcome the effort to create a space for their learners to explore and grow.

“iPERFORM is going to allow them the opportunity to explore, heal from trauma and  develop performance skills that could support them and their children in the future,” Chadwick said. 

One of the greatest hopes of this program, according to Chadwick, is that it will demonstrate to the learners that they can break various negative cycles in their lives and pursue the path they choose. “I think the arts have the capacity to do this in any situation,” Chadwick said. “But our program will be unique in that it will be individualized to reflect our learners and their circumstances.”

Empower Generations Director Malaka Donovan is excited about iPERFORM being a whole-school immersive arts learning experience. “The word ‘experience’ is key here,” she sad.
This is going to represent an amazing opportunity for our learners and the children of our pregnant and parenting teens to grow socially and emotionally. They will be able to explore on a deep, personal level in a way that will be meaningful to them.”

This project also includes the support of an artist in residence. Laurel Butler, a Los Angeles-based educator, facilitator, performing artist, and arts education & social justice consultant – is overwhelmingly excited about the implications of iPERFORM. 

“We live at a moment in history where the power of the voices of young people is so evident,” said Butler.

This work should not be underestimated, Butler said. All young learners but especially those who are pregnant or parenting have a distinct need to learn how to theorize the future, she said. 

“When we engage in autobiographical storytelling using creative tools, young people get to have agency over their own narrative of the past, the present and then how they might shape the future,” Butler said. “We need to remind them that they can create the world they want to see. If one wants a world of justice, fairness and equity, then one has to create it.”


Donovan emphasized that learners choose to engage in arts integration for many reasons. “Ultimately, we are about having all learners engage on deeper levels, and we see this arts integration as a means to do just that,” Donovan said.

In addition to the arts being part of iLEAD’s name and project-based learning vision, this last year has also seen an increased focus on incorporating the arts into the multitiered system of support, according to iLEAD California Founder and CEO Dawn Evenson. “iPERFORM will help the Empower Generations’ learners and staff dig deeper into the healing power of the arts,” she said. “We are about supporting our learners and optimizing their overall experience.”

Posted on September 3, 2020 in iLEAD Digest

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About the Author

Michael Niehoff is a teacher, leader, blogger, learner advocate, and the Education Content Coordinator at iLEAD Schools.
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