Visual art, poetry, and creative writing give students at Sylvia Fedoruk School a voice as they engage in discussions, reflections, and analyze social issues.
The students in Wayne Gering's Grade 8 classroom examined and identified concerns on topics such as racism, social injustice, and homophobia and then used various mediums of communication to create awareness.
"The interesting highlight for most students was the opportunity to have their voice represented in a motivational way in bringing unheard voices to the forefront," Gering said. "The representation to support individuals, cultural groups, and many others was a common theme for most. Many students understood this opportunity as a way to bring a light to the misunderstandings and stereotypes that are often perpetuated by society and give a chance to reconcile and spark the debate for change."
In the weeks leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, students were introduced to examples of personal expression that have helped fuel social change, including music, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and a slam poetry piece. As an example of student voice, Gering shared a piece where a former student uses a personal experience with racism as inspiration.
"Hearing and seeing the messages, personal expressions, and moving images inform and provoke individual thoughts was a powerful moment for many students," he said.
The pieces created by students were a product of passion and a serious approach to the issues. Peer-to-peer discussion and feedback informed the editing process and students were conscious and respectful of one another's thoughts and work.
"Hearing and seeing the messages, personal expressions, and moving images inform and provoke individual thoughts was a powerful moment for many students," Gering said.
"Many pieces were written from personal avenues and close family experiences, while some were written in perspective that changes need to be made. Finding a message of addressing the social injustice was a starting point for many students. Some knew from hearing my prior student's message, what they would write about and share as a personal experience."
Student writing and art was presented at an assembly, with five students selected to share their learning with poetry, messages of change, and visual presentations. A bulletin board display in the school's senior wing hallway gave other students the opportunity to read the collection of messages.
Providing the opportunity to analyze and reflect upon social issues is one way that schools help students become critical thinkers and individuals who can advocate for themselves with a voice that helps motivate and spur societal change through sensible, non-confrontational avenues. The ability to use personal virtues to sift information in order to make educated decisions is crucial when it comes to students developing understanding and exploring how their world works.
For Gering, sharing in students' unique messages of creating awareness and change in one another is a highlight.
"The journey that some students have been on and continue through, is a testament to the perseverance and resiliency they possess. Giving more opportunities like these empowers everyone that much more. It is an honor to read their personal story and messages," he said. "The compassion, concern, and curiosity that resulted throughout the project was genuine and hopeful of the change that can be made."