At Royal Oak Alternate High School, the music therapy program provides 6 – 10 individual music therapy sessions per week. These sessions often center around music listening and reflection, song-writing and recording, instrumental instruction, improvisation and beat/song production.
This time in the music therapy room is invaluable for many students as they often lack the one – on – one attention from a safe adult, and have flourished over the past year in music therapy sessions.
The school was able to hold an end of the year showcase for all the students and staff at Royal Oak to participate in. “The outcome was fabulous! We got a ton of buy-in from students – even students who had never come to music were participating and showing off talents that we didn’t know existed. Staff were so pleased with the results and are still talking about it in September. This trial run of a showcase will allow for more of the same style of events to happen throughout the year, and we hope to host another event in December.”
– Music Therapist Felicia Wall.
The demographics of the Royal Oak music therapy program are very wide. The school caters to individuals who have previously attended Burnaby schools, who are moving into the district, or whose parents are coming from a northern community to try to make city life work for them. Youth who end up at Royal Oak are there for a variety of reasons, but all of them fall into the “at-risk youth” category with multiple, intersectional identities that leave them marginalized in one way or another that make participation in mainstream school very difficult.
15 – 19
Providing music therapy at Royal Oak School for 2021 has allowed the students to experience some form of normalcy that they didn’t otherwise experience in the community at large. The music therapist and the sessions were a constant in their weekly routine, and many students comment that Wednesday was their favourite day because that was when they got to attend music therapy.
The mental health needs for these students were even more prominent than the general student population in BC. For most of them, Royal Oak is a safe place to go, with safe adults and close knit community – not being able to access this through the beginning months of COVID was a real loss for them.
Music therapy also allowed for the students to express themselves in a very direct and different way. Many teenagers are struggling with their identity and struggling with self-expression and self-confidence. Singing, playing instruments and writing songs/raps are great ways to express themselves in a safe manner. They can get their difficult emotions out through singing songs that match their internal world, and the music therapist can then support and normalize these feelings.
Additionally, in sharing music that represents their youth’s culture with the music therapist, they become the expert and the holder of knowledge. They are given autonomy to direct the session, and the freedom to show their interests and who they are. These youth have spent so much time in the system that they are disenfranchised and often do not have the opportunity to show their own strengths and knowledge. This opportunity can give them confidence and make them feel seen and heard.
Navigating The Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic
From Music Therapist Felicia:
“The changes last year during the COVID-19 pandemic were not overall that large. Myself and the students were always wearing a mask, and we kept all the surfaces and instruments wiped down whenever possible. Otherwise, most of the sessions are on a one-on-one basis, so there was not too much that needed to be done to cater to the pandemic.”
Your support will sustain the music therapy hours at Royal Oak. Without it, they would not be able to run a full day of music therapy. A full day of programming helps the music therapist cater to the many students who are interested in music therapy. With a growing interest in the program, they are already struggling to find time for everyone in one single day – without your support they would not have enough hours to provide a meaningful program.
Tony is a student who was new to Royal Oak this past year, who comes from a tumultuous home environment. At first glance, he is more reserved than other students; however, when he is feeling comfortable, there is no stopping his comedy, wit and talk of his favorite video games.
He began attending music therapy sessions from the beginning of coming to Royal Oak, and quickly became a steady and regular attendee. He began writing his first ever rap with the help of Music Therapist Felicia, and completed it at the end of the school year, including writing the lyrics, creating a beat and recording the song.
At the end of the year concert, he even surprised everyone – including Felicia – by performing it in front of everyone! Tony is now writing raps on his phone in his free time – it has given him an outlet for emotional expression and connection to others as he shows what he has created with them. He is showing a part of himself to the world that was otherwise undiscovered and untapped without the help of music therapy.