Separate classroom experiences — one that saw students examine how a connection to the land can shape individuals and another the way in which language plays a role in culture — came together in the form of arts projects that showcase student learning at École Dundonald School.
The artistic creations, a tile installation by younger students and a lobstick pole created by senior French immersion students, were guided by artist Leah Dorion. The students' work beautified the planters located in the school's main hallway, with the tile work evoking the colours of the prairie landscape and the lobstick highlighting the school's diversity of language and culture.
During the fall of 2019, four Grade 3-5 classes were involved in a series of land-based experiences to answer the question: How does our connection to the land allow us to grow, nurture, and cultivate a deep sense of who we are?
Students spent time at the Forestry Farm, Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Gabriel Dumont Park, and on the Meewasin Trail to learn how land is central to an Indigenous world view, to reflect on their connections to nature, and sketch their impressions.
"Back at school, each classroom had the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and represent their new ideas through sketching workshops with Métis artist and author Leah Dorion. It was exciting to watch their confidence, thinking and sketching skills grow and change over time," said teacher Jana Scott Lindsay.
Students worked alongside Dorion to explore their connections with the prairie landscape. Their final project, a tile installation on the planters located in the school's main hallway, reflects those connections with depictions of the sky, river, grassland and sunset. The project was supported by a grant from the Saskatchewan Art's Board.
For students in teacher Michelle Jarčan's Grade 7 and 8 French immersion class, the past year included an exploration of the role language plays in culture.
"As we move students toward reconciliation, a critical understanding of world views is imperative. Through a range of authentic and meaningful in-class and out of school experiences students have constructed a deep understanding of the connection between language and culture," Jarčan said.
Learning opportunities included: participating in French language drama and music workshops; learning about the Michif language and culture at Westmount Community School; exploring tipi teachings at the school division's Brightwater Science, Environmental and Indigenous Learning Centre; attending a French language leadership class; and visiting Batoche with the presentation in Michif and French.
After each cultural encounter, students participated in a class discussion and completed a written reflection that considered connections to their own cultural and family experiences as well as the impact of the activity on their own learning.
During their study, which was supported by funding from the Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation, there was a noticeable shift in the students' approach to learning through the sharing of culture and language. That was illustrated by comments such as: "Can I incorporate teachings from my own culture into this project?" "I didn't realize how much Michif I already know!" and "How do you say, 'thank you' in your language?"
"Students have become more comfortable sharing their own diverse cultures while creating greater awareness and understanding about Métis and French cultures," Jarčan said.
With Saskatoon Public Schools' new student-centered strategic plan, the work done with the culture and language inquiry becomes more significant moving forward as schools strive to ensure every student is known, valued and believed in.
The students showed growth in their willingness to share, teach and embrace their individual cultures as well as an ability to reflect on the significance of the loss of language to one's own culture and the culture of others.
Their year-long journey concluded by collaborating with Dorion in the creation of the lobstick pole representing their insights and experiences. The lobstick, which is a feature element in the planters alongside the tile work of the younger students, serves as a visible reminder for Dundonald's staff and students to continue to explore the diverse languages and cultures in the school community.