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Poverty leads to stress, which in turn leads to poorer health. Breaking this cycle is certainly a challenge, especially with children. But promising new research provides evidence of an effective, low-cost intervention: arts education.


A study featuring 310 economically disadvantaged preschoolers reports music, dance, and visual arts lessons effectively reduced their stress levels as measured by the level of a common hormone.


This effect kicked in during the first half of the school year, and remained strong through the program’s conclusion.


“Our study is the first we know of that demonstrates that the arts may help alleviate the impact of poverty on children’s physiological functioning,” West Chester University psychologist Eleanor Brown, the study’s primary investigator, writes in the journal Child Development.


The three- to five-year-old children all attended the Settlement Music School’s Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment Program in Philadelphia. While part of the federal Head Start program, the preschool is unique “in its full integration of the arts,” the researchers note. The children “receive multiple arts classes each day, taught in fully equipped artist studios by credentialed artist-teachers.”


The children were of many races, but all were from low-income families. And poverty has been widely associated with elevated stress.


Our bodies react to stressful situations by increasing our cortisol level, which gives us extra energy to protect ourselves against a perceived threat. People living in poverty (or other high-stress situations) often suffer from chronic elevated cortisol, which has been linked to a variety of health problems, including cognitive and emotional difficulties.

Emotional self-regulation is taught as part of the arts classes.

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The children’s cortisol levels were measured on two separate days at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. Saliva samples were taken in the morning (to establish a baseline) and at mid-morning, noon, and afternoon, following either an arts or a home-room class. (Their schedules were staggered to ensure the results reflected the impact of a specific class, rather than the time of day.)


The researchers found that, at mid-year and again at the end of the school year, the kids’ average cortisol levels were lower after an arts class than they were after their home-room period. This held true whether the arts class was music, dance, or visual art.


“This suggests that arts classes … taught by credentialed artist-teachers have value added beyond the limited integration of the arts found in typical home-room classes based on (Head Start’s) creative curriculum,” they conclude.


The fact that these positive effects emerged at the middle of the year “suggests that physiological benefits of arts programming may not be manifested upon children’s initial exposure,” the researchers add. Rather, they “may depend on children’s adjustment, or accumulated skill acquisition.”

Reducing Stress Through Art Therapy

Precisely why the children’s stress level lowered isn’t entirely clear. The researchers note that emotional self-regulation is taught as part of the arts classes. Presumably, learning artistic skills also helps the kids develop the ability to focus and concentrate, and activities such as singing and dancing certainly allow for emotional release.

Whatever the specifics, the classes’ positive impact is clear. If you still think of arts education as a luxury — well, is good mental and emotional health a luxury too?

Affordable housing and a unique pathway to homeownership program that elevates our youth from facing homelessness to building long term wealth through homeownership.

Elevate Our Youth

Not enough affordable housing, as well as housing services, available for those in need in Camden County

Around 60,000 evictions are pending across the state, data from the state judiciary shows. Matt Shapiro, president of the New Jersey Tenants Association, said those likely represent only a fraction of evictions that will be filed once the moratorium ends.


“Most landlords haven’t filed evictions because of the lockout moratorium,” Shapiro said. “If we don’t do something, you’re going to see 200,000, 300,000 pending evictions.”


Eviction filings declined dramatically in 2020 after the moratorium went into effect, according to judiciary data. From April through the end of the year, 46,245 evictions were filed across the state, down nearly 60% from the 112,888 filed during the same period in 2019.


If evictions had not been on hold, it’s likely the number of 2020 evictions would have been much higher than previous years. One estimate said almost one-third of renters failed to pay their rent fully and on-time in July.

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Universal Initiatives (Millennial Housing Foundation) joined forces with Hopeworks in Camden City, New Jersey, to provide young people between the ages of 18 and 26 years old with hope for a promising future. Our collaboration provides underserved young people with affordable housing and a unique pathway to homeownership program that elevates our youth from facing homelessness to building long term wealth through homeownership. By working together, Hopeworks and UI help young people break through cycles of generational poverty by accessing higher wage employment and equity through homeownership.