The Gleaner

ArtistsInspire offers students new opportunities in arts education

Parents picking up their children after school at Heritage Elementary in Huntingdon are invited to meet them in the ‘mini gym,’ which happens to be right beside the school’s N.E.S.T. room and a stunning new mural painted by Grade 5, 5-6, and 6 students, with special help from those in kindergarten and Grades 1 and 2.

On one afternoon last week, a young girl pushed past some parents to align her hand with one painted as a leaf on the mural. “That’s my hand,” she announced proudly. Mackenzie Hooker, a community development agent with the New Frontiers School board, says that sense of pride is exactly the kind of reaction they were hoping to generate with the project.


Students in Grade 3 at Heritage Elementary School took part in a dance and paint workshop on March 1 with artists Adele Reeves and Kerwin Barrington<br >PHOTO Sarah Rennie

Education technicians Megan Vézina and Ashley Jewer, who work in the N.E.S.T. room, had approached Hooker with a project in mind, and she reached out to artist Adele Reeves who specializes in collective murals inspired by scenes of nature. Reeves, who is associated with the English Language Arts Network’s (ELAN) ArtistsInspire program, had previously worked with Franklin Elementary to complete their spectacular Alphabet on a Barn project.

ArtistsInspire is a microgrant program that offers English schools in Quebec the opportunity to bring artists into the classroom through ELAN, with support from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage. Hooker says the students first worked on drawings of the different animals native to Quebec with art teacher Marguerite Bromley. Reeves used these images as inspiration.

The project took over two days to complete, with students doing the bulk of the painting while Reeves added small details and cleaned up some edges. The older students painted sections in small groups before returning to their classes. Reeves says working with just four students at a time is quite special. “I can really connect, and so the whole group feels they have had my attention,” she explains, noting children who might not normally participate in such an activity tend to really respond to this format. “In terms of experimenting with education, it is very cool,” she says, adding it is inspiring for her as well.

Reeves was back at Heritage on March 1 with friend and fellow artist Kerwin Barrington for an eclectic dance and paint workshop with students in Grades 3, 3-4, 4 and the Learning Centre. Focused again on themes found in nature, Reeves and Barrington structured their workshop around water and the elements. The students danced together and then incorporated some of the moves they had learned into creating mixed media portraits of themselves.

Barrington says she especially enjoys how humbling it can be to work with kids. “I love teaching them about what their body feels like and what it can do, and dance and paint is a really cool abstraction of that,” she explains. “It is about being yourself, but while being a part of something bigger in a group.


Howick students were treated to an educational experience with Brazilian music on February 29 with Les Brasileirinhos Educação Musical e Cultura Brasileira em Montréal PHOTO Howick Elementary School

Several other schools within the New Frontiers School Board also welcomed artists into the classroom in the past few weeks. Students at Howick Elementary were introduced to Brazilian music and culture during a workshop with Les BrasileirinhosEducação Musical e CulturaBrasileira em Montréal. The students took part in an interactive performance by the Brazilian duo, who also spoke about their country. “They all loved it!” exclaimed principal Eveline Taylor, noting the artists were especially good at keeping the students involved and engaged in the performance.

Students at Franklin Elementary recently enjoyed learning about percussion through a bucket drumming workshop, and those at Gault Elementary in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield were able to participate in an African drumming workshop through the program as well. Teachers at Chateauguay Valley Regional High School have welcomed a poet and a visual artist into their classrooms.

Megan L’Heureux, who is the community development agent working with Chateauguay Valley Regional High School, as well as Franklin and Hemmingford Elementary schools, says most schools in the Valley have had at least one artist come into the classroom this year. She explains that ELAN has a selection of English-speaking artists from Quebec who are willing to work with student classes. “It is really accessible,” she says, noting teachers can match the different workshops to their curriculum.

For Heritage principal James Furey, the program brings a lot more than an artist into the school. “It takes the industrial feel out of the space and makes it more welcoming,” he says, of the new mural gracing the N.E.S.T. wall. He especially appreciates the fact students were active participants in the school improvement project from start to end. He says the results, both on the wall and in terms of student pride, are impressive.

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