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Beat the Odds - Info Pending

January 13 - April 28, 2020
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beat the odds®: social and emotional skill building delivered in a framework of drumming

Beat the Odds® is an evidence-based and trauma-informed program that integrates activities from group drumming and group counseling to build core strengths such as focusing and listening, team building, leadership, expressing feelings, managing anger/stress, empathy, and gratitude.

UCLA researchers have shown that BTO can significantly reduce a spectrum of behavioral problems in children, such as behaviors related to inattention, withdrawn/depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, and sluggish cognitive tempo (Ho, Tsao, Bloch, & Zeltzer, 2011). New findings show that the program is also highly effective for special education classrooms.

Beat the Odds® emphasizes process and not performance. It includes a therapeutic dimension involving such elements as positive affirmations, emotional coping strategies, and guided interaction with rhythmic activities serving as a metaphor for life, followed by reflection and dialogue—without the stigma of therapy.

In this four-session course for educators led by Ping Ho, Founder and Director of UCLArts & Healing, learn how to become a Beat the Odds® facilitator. The program serves a whole classroom at a time and is sustainably designed for delivery by school personnel or individuals without musical experience. It can easily be adapted for any age group and also serves as an effective tool for community building with staff and families.


Two sections of the course are offered, each geared towards a grade level range.

Session 1: Monday, Jan. 13, 2020 / Beat the Odds intro
Session 2: Monday, Feb. 3, 2020 / Beat the Odds cont.
Session 3: Wednesday, March 11, 2020 / Beat the Odds cont.
Session 4: Tuesday, April 28, 2020 / Reflection
*All sessions 4:30 - 7:30 PM

Session 1: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 / Beat the Odds intro
Session 2: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 / Beat the Odds cont.
Session 3: Tuesday, March 10, 2020 / Beat the Odds cont.
Session 4: Tuesday, April 28, 2020 / Reflection
*All sessions 4:30 - 7:30 PM


January, February and March sessions will occur at Des Moines Public Schools District Offices, 2100 Fleur Drive, Des Moines.

The final wrap-up session in April will be held at the Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut Street, Des Moines.

  • This course is intended for general classroom, interventionists, special education and ELL teachers, guidance counselors, arts specialists, and administrators.
  • There are no prerequisites to take this course.
  • Course fee is $100. (Course fee is waived for Des Moines Public Schools teachers.)
  • License renewal credit through Heartland AEA is available. Information on how to register for credit will be provided at the first session. (Additional fees apply.)     

Find the original study and other publications, a summary document for administrators, testimonials, and media articles in our Resources section.

  • Drumming is a universal activity that is part of every culture. It is equally enjoyed by boys and girls. The National Education Association advocates the use of the arts as a “hook” for getting students interested in school. Drumming gets students interested in school. (Verdugo, 2006)

  • Drumming is an inclusive nonverbal activity that enables anyone to participate – even those who do not speak, do not speak the same language, or are wheelchair bound. No previous experience is required for participation.

  • Drumming, without expectations of perfection or mastery, reduces self-judgment and performance anxiety and encourages a growth mindset that is essential to learning and academic performance, and greater participation in classroom activities. (Gunderson et al., 2013; Moser, Schroder, Heeter, Moran, & Lee, 2011)

  • Creative expression that embraces mistakes as part of the learning process can bring the missing element of joy and laughter to the lives of traumatized children. The arts are uniquely capable of enhancing positive emotions, which in turn build resilience (Frederickson, 2012; Tugade & Frederickson, 2004). Children are empowered by discovering that they don’t need to be stuck in their feelings.

  • Active music making engages large areas of the brain, which quite literally crowds out stress, grief, and pain. It also keeps us in the present moment. (Tramo, 2001) In addition, repetitive rhythm promotes the relaxation response (Crowe, 2004) and can bring calm and centering through contained energy release. All of these aspects of drumming can calm stress reactivity in the brain after exposure to trauma and enable rational brain functions of sequential thinking, decision–making, and social behavior that are inhibited by trauma. (van der Kolk, 2014)

  • Traumatic stress responses inhibit speech center activity in the brain, which interferes with our ability to articulate what we are thinking and feeling. On the other hand, when under stress, we are hardwired for activity in visual, movement, and sound centers of the brain for self-protection. Therefore, drumming offers a non-verbal means of self-expression and engagement that can be useful in addressing trauma. (van der Kolk, 2014)

  • Rhythmic synchrony (a form of empathy) stimulates a reward center of the brain and leads to positive behavior. (Kokal, Engle, Kirschner, & Keysers, 2011) Synchrony, or mirroring, is akin to having a voice and being heard. Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, in The Body Keeps the Score, notes that: “Trauma almost invariably involves not been seen, nor being mirrored, and not being taken into account…Children will go to almost any length to feel seen and connected.” Beat the Odds® gives them this opportunity in a way that feels organic and safe. The experience of connection and safety provides an essential point of reference for resilience and, thus, is key to healing trauma.

  • With drumming, one can participate as much or as little as one likes, yet still be engaged and feel part of the group. Drumming is a contained activity, as everyone is seated, and participants feel safe behind their drum. Shared creative experiences offer organic opportunities for meaningful dialogue, development of empathy, and community building. (Freire, 1973) And they offer an opportunity for embodied social-emotional learning that is enduring. For example, “when students that don’t ordinarily get along are brought together for a positive shared experience, they form a group identity. One school counselor that we worked with noted that when she incorporated the use of a drum into her counseling groups, the students enjoyed sharing while drumming and stopped fighting with each other because, ‘you don’t beat up a member of your group.’ ” (Ho, Chinen, Streja, Kreitzer, & Sierpina, 2011)

  • Studies of group drumming with adults have shown measurable improvements in biological, psychological and social measures of stress, particularly when reflection and self-disclosure are incorporated. (Bittman et al., 2001; Fancourt, Perkins, Ascenso, Carvalho, Steptoe, & Williamon 2016) Research with other age groups also supports the benefits of this process. (Kirschner & Tomasello, 2009; Gerson, Schiavio, Timmers & Hunnius, 2015; Ho, Tsao, Bloch, & Zeltzer, 2011; Bittman, Dickson, & Coddington, 2009; Koyama et al, 2009)

  • Rhythmic strategies can be utilized easily in classrooms as a kinesthetic tool for facilitating learning, cooperative behavior, and a positive classroom environment.

  • Drumming offers an opportunity for students to shine, particularly those who struggle with academic subjects, and provides a positive activity alternative to unhealthy choices that might otherwise be made.

This course is offered in partnership with Des Moines Public Schools, as part of the John F. Kennedy Center's national Partners in Education program.

DMPS employees have the opportunity to have their registration fees waived for the course.

Please contact Sara Perez, Curriculum Coordinator for Des Moines Performing Arts, with questions about the course content or structure. 515-246-2378,

Online registration is preferred. In the event you need registration assistance, please contact Heidi Mason, Education Administrative Specialist, at 515-246-2355 or

Event Details

See 'Section Dates and Times' for specific information.
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Mission Moment

You Make The Difference

"The arts help us understand ourselves as human beings. If you look at how we've ever documented our existence, it's all through an art form."

-Eric Olmscheid, Director of Programming and Education

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