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Art therapy helps school cope with loss of Chapel Hill shooting victims

Posted April 28
Updated May 2

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— It’s been more than a year since the murders of three student’s shocked Chapel Hill residents.

Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salah died last February when police said their neighbor shot and killed them. All three attended Al-Iman School in Raleigh as children and students and staff there still struggle with the loss.

The picture of the three former students hang in the office of Principal Mussarut Jabeen.

“They were like my children. I taught them in elementary school, in middle school. They’re very close to my heart. They are very dear to me,” Jabeen said.

The murders were a personal loss for Jabeen, but the crime touched everyone at the school.

“I remember everyone was crying. We all stood in a circle and we just prayed,” said student Suhailah Boukarfi.

Students, teachers and parents have been working together to process their grief.

Ameer Jordan turned to poetry, saying it gives him a way to explore his own feelings and share them.

“You don’t want other people to feel what you feel, you want them to know what you feel,” Jordan said.

Art can be therapeutic, but there is no art program for students at Al-Iman. The teachers do the best they can to incorporate art in the curriculum, but a $2,000 grant is going to allow teachers to do even more.

The new grant from the nonprofit Wahl Foundation will help pay for art supplies and training in trauma-informed art therapy and trauma-informed expressive arts therapy for teachers. The goal is to help students deal with the trauma from last year’s shooting and cope with Islamophobia.

“Giving them the chance to talk about what’s on their minds through art gives us a chance to address it in a therapeutic setting,” said teacher Inshirah Daher.

Jabeen said it’s one more way to honor the three she lost.

“That’s my mission. I want these children to be remembered for who they were, for the difference they made,” she said.

The Wahl Foundation and the National Association of Elementary School Principals partnered to provide the grant. Jabeen hopes to hire a part-time instructor with the money.

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  • Anne Havisham May 3, 11:18 a.m.
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    What a loving, wonderful way to help their community heal! The more I read about the three young people who were so horribly stolen from us last February, the more I admire them.

    Their families and friends have done and are doing a lot of work to feed the hungry, care for the needy, and bring more compassion to our neighborhoods, our country, and our world.

    Few would blame them had they responded solely out of anger, but they have decided to share love instead.

    May art also help the school community to heal from the theft of these three lovely young people. Destruction is powerful, but it is no match for the power of creativity.