2022 Grants Challenge

Beat the Odds® Drumming for Resilience

Beat the Odds® is an evidence-based and trauma-informed program that integrates the power of group drumming and group counseling to build core strengths such as listening, team building, leadership, expressing feelings, managing anger/stress, empathy, and gratitude. UCLA researchers have shown it can significantly reduce behavior problems, such as those related to inattention, depression, posttraumatic stress, and anxiety. This program will give Los Angeles County students a chance to lead and shine, while rejuvenating and motivating staff.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

K-12 STEAM Education

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

City of Los Angeles

LAUSD (select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Youth needs for social emotional support escalated during the pandemic and impacted their ability to learn in school, especially students with existing academic, health, economic, and/or racial disparities. As schools forge a path forward, investing in student support and helping them heal will be crucial. Shared creative arts experiences, such as drumming, offer organic opportunities to develop empathy, meaningful dialogue, and connection. Drumming enables non-verbal self-expression and engagement when speech is limited by stress, trauma, ability, language, or culture. Active music making engages large areas of the brain, which calms lower-brain stress reactivity and, in turn, enables upper-brain learning and constructive behavior. Moreover, rhythmic synchrony stimulates a reward center of the brain and leads to positive behavior toward others. It encourages positive risk taking and growth mindset development essential to learning, classroom participation, and academic performance.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

Beat the Odds® (BTO) is an evidence-based, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive program that integrates activities from group drumming and group counseling to build core strengths via a positive youth development approach, unlike deficit models typical of published research. Unlike traditional arts programs, BTO emphasizes process and not performance. It includes a therapeutic dimension such as positive affirmations, emotional coping strategies, and guided interaction with rhythmic activities serving as a metaphor for life, followed by reflection and dialogue. Research has shown that reflection leads to greater reductions in physical and psychological indicators of stress, and it also makes learning more explicit – which is central to the most effective social-emotional learning interventions. BTO empowers educators, mental health, and other school personnel with tools for supporting student mental health—without the stigma of therapy. BTO is an eight-session program delivered weekly for 40 – 45 minutes, with an easy-to-follow scripted manual. The program serves a whole classroom of diverse students at a time and is sustainably designed for delivery by school personnel or others without musical experience. BTO can easily be adapted for any age group and also serves as an effective tool for community building with staff and families. This project will also train students to deliver the program in a mentorship model that we have found effective in school settings.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

As Los Angeles County continues healing from the long-term impacts of the pandemic, increased social-emotional student success will have a ripple effect throughout the community: Kindergarteners sharing eagerly and listening raptly to one another’s stories of kindness towards others. A classroom of grieving students smiling and laughing for the first time in months, finding resilience in knowing there is something they can do to feel better. A music teacher witnessing a group of 6th graders stopping a bully with a stare, after discussion of the affirmation “I am special, I am valuable.” Students with disabilities being included. Middle school students becoming better friends with their classmates, feeling happier and more relaxed, and finding relief from their pain. Students stopping fighting with each other because “you don’t beat up a member of your group.” Each session with students opens their hearts, changes their lives, and gives them tools to live life by, now and in the future.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

In a whole school implementation (by a single school counselor, using a 4-session version of BTO) at Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana, CA, we found a 6-point increase in sense of belonging, after 4 consecutive years of decline in this area – as measured by the CA Healthy Kids Survey. We also saw decreases in behavior incidents across the board. In year 2 of the above project, we developed an adolescent version of BTO centered on addressing bulling and meanness, after surveying all students about their greatest concerns. We found a significant improvement in a composite index of all 5 social-emotional goals just after two sessions. Teachers have reported drumming to be impactful for students with self-regulation challenges (e.g., they stop throwing furniture when invited to drum with someone else). BTO increases classroom participation by students with disabilities or by those who are shy. Shared drumming experiences broaden social circles among neurodiverse populations.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 60

Indirect Impact: 3,000