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Art and Culture Program Encourages Kids’ Creative Escape

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Art and Culture Program Encourages Kids’ Creative Escape

Art and Culture Program Encourages Kids’ Creative Escape

Every Friday afternoon, busy first-and second-year medical students stop studying for two hours to bring creative art and cultural activities to Golisano Children’s Hospital patients. A group of students at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry make room in their schedules to volunteer with sick and injured kids through Students Engaged in Art, or St.ART. The program gives students a break while also giving kids the opportunity to express themselves in unique and fun ways.

John Mariano and Erika Snow, two second-year students, got involved in the program in 2011. With a particular interest in pediatrics, the two group leaders were drawn to St.ART. “When you’re in school you put your mind in a medical landscape, but being involved in this program allows you to take your mind off it and explore the humanistic side,” John said.

St.ART was inspired by Elissa Spinner, a resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center from 1988 to 1990, who, after passing in a tragic car accident abroad, continues to leave her mark on the future of pediatric care. She was intrigued by pediatrics because of “the process of engaging children and their parents.” A lover of the arts, Elissa especially enjoyed painting, writing poetry and sculpting. Some of her work continues to be displayed on the children’s hospital walls. Originally performance based, the “Elissa Spinner Memorial Day” grand rounds now features guest speakers who share various creative techniques of patient expression, such as poetry and writing with a focus on medicine.

Elissa’s passion for creative art and enthusiasm for seeing patients express themselves continues to shine through in what current students bring to the Playdeck every week. A few of the activities have included painting with bubbles and syringes, writing expressive poetry, pumpkin painting, drumming, and creating interactive board games, just to name a few. Students also make sure to include, and encourage, both personal expression and teamwork. While some of the kids may start the activity a little timidly, it doesn’t take long for the medical students to bring them out of their shells. Students make it a point to get involved, often making themselves look silly by dancing and acting, making patients feel more comfortable.

“A patient may be hesitant to visit the Playdeck at first, but after they finish doing the activity or watching the performance, they say ‘thank you’ and you can see they really enjoyed it,” Erika said.

Activities are also adapted for patients who may not be able to visit the Playdeck, allowing them to experience the fun in their rooms. Age is also a factor that the medical students have to consider, often having patients ranging from 3 to 18 years old.

“There have been times when the activity may not have gone as planned, but you learn to go with it,” John said. “If one kid is having a ball, that one hour of reprieve makes it all worth it.”

Students often go out into the community, including the University of Rochester campus, and ask organizations to share their talents with our patients. Undergraduate-led programs, including the medical school’s “On Call” a cappella group, the “Strong Jugglers,” and “Rassha Fuzion,” a South Asian folk dance group, are just a few of the groups St.ART has brought in over the past year.

St.ART has been passed down from class to class. The growth and success of the program for future patients has not only been important to the medical students who make it possible, but also to the children’s hospital’s Child Life staff – a group that specializes in caring for the emotional and developmental needs of children and families.

“Students involved in St.ART have made a long-term commitment and continue to prove the value of the program year after year. It’s not a ‘one shot’ deal; they are always bringing in fresh ideas and a flavor of the arts that kids may not regularly be exposed to,” said Wendy Lane, coordinator of the Child Life program.

“It’s important for us to include a variety of activities and performances for the kids,” Erika said. “Knowing that they are sometimes in the hospital for an extended period of time, we aim to bring the world to them.”

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