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  • Writer's pictureClaudia Paige

Written by Lisa Williams - Octopus RhythmWorks at Jasper Mountain

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Nine kids sit in half-circle formation, facing us. They range in age from seven to fifteen. All of them are living here at Jasper Mountain, a residential psychiatric treatment facility for children, where we have come to drum with them.

For these kids, the losses are many, and the emotions are large. Almost all children at Jasper Mountain have been involved at some point with the child welfare system, and many have experienced not only removal from their birth families but also subsequently failed adoptions. Research has demonstrated that 80% of the kids who interact with the child welfare system struggle with mental health issues – and those issues are exacerbated over time by additional moves and attachment disruptions. In school, this kind of history shows up clearly in classroom behavior: beginning in kindergarten, children with mental health disorders are twice as likely to receive referrals and suspensions, for example.[1] The issue is even more pronounced within Special Education, an umbrella under which over 90% of children in foster care are served: one study found that children with a diagnosis of Emotional Disturbance were suspended/expelled at a rate of 64%, and there is additional research showing significant disparities in disciplinary practices for children with learning and emotional disabilities as well.[2] In Oregon specifically, these issues can be seen in graduation outcomes: data tracking has revealed that children in foster care graduate high school at a rate of 35% (compared to 77% of the non-foster-care population) and drop out at a rate of 37% (compared to 13%).[3] Because of these kids’ complex struggles, it’s not surprising that they tend to get labeled as “troubled” or “at-risk,” and as children accumulate negative educational experiences and the labels that accompany them, they internalize the message that they are incapable or “bad” kids and so continue to perform accordingly.

We get glimmers of the kids’ life experiences as we drum. When discussing happiness and sharing what makes us happy (and the “joy groove” we make up to go with it), for example, eight of the nine kids reference their mothers: “cuddling with my mom,” one says wistfully. “Hiking with my mom,” says another, her face suddenly brightened by a smile. Another boy, a little quieter and more laid back than the others, shares that writing music makes him happy and, when it comes his turn to share his groove, quietly speaks his original lyrics over the top of it: “Miss you so much, I just don’t know,” he drums, his eyes on the floor.

Every week is different. Each unit of our drumming curriculum focuses on a specific emotion: one week happiness, the next week anger, another week sadness. We talk about – and then drum about – how these emotions work for each of us: what triggers them, how they present in our bodies, what we can do to manage and direct them. Most importantly, though, what we do is connect in ways that only music can offer. We fuse together our individual rhythms into a musical whole and try, for that one little window of time each week, to show these kids that their hearts do not beat in quiet isolation.

For more information on our program, check us out at

For more information on Jasper Mountain, go to

Octopus RhythmWorks uses Remo Tubanos and Remo shakers in our programs.

[1] [2] Miller, C.E., and S.E. Meyers. (2015: March). Disparities in School Discipline Practices for Students with Emotional and Learning Disabilities and Autism. Journal of Education and Human Development 4:1: 255-267. [3] Oregon Department of Human Services.

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