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Gateway, Palmerston and Primrose students explore equity and social justice through the arts

June 7, 2019

GUELPH, Ontario – From January to April of this year, students at three Upper Grand DSB elementary schools participated in a joint project that integrated the arts, social justice and experiential learning.

Experiencing Equity through the Arts was an inquiry project that prompted students from Gateway Drive Public School, Palmerston Public School and Primrose Elementary School to explore critical thinking and social justice and connect these concepts to creative works.

Early on in the process, students were guided in learning about the impacts of identity on equity and inclusion, critical thinking with a social justice lens and ways to engage with posters from Students were then guided through a journey of self-reflection, rendering pieces of art: identity texts, poster art, and digital story rants. Students and teachers also engaged in experiential learning, making connections to community resources, experiential learning activities, and integrative thinking models such as the Ladder of Inference.

What resulted was an array of creative works that invited viewers into a space of self-interaction and recognition of student voice.

Palmerston Public School

At Palmerston, grade 6/7 students thoughtfully designed a series of poster art for specific spaces in the school, with an intention to challenge people’s thinking.

Palmerston PS students created posters for the Equity through the Arts project, May 2019.

Before the project began, the Palmerston class had already considered equity and inclusion in their classroom, school, and community.  Supported by their prior knowledge, students were able to engage in thinking about how identity connects with privilege. From this, students passionately shared examples of discrimination and oppression connected to the Unlearn Posters and their personal interests and experiences.

In exploring issues of equity, the students became particularly curious about key issues that impacted people in their own community. To encourage their on-going inquiry, they were supported with connections with Virtual Researchers on Call and a local community partner working with the Good Food Box program. Moving forward, these connections can be a starting point for students to become change-makers close to home and beyond.

The Palmerston PS poster art explores media and graphic design, visually communicating an action for change. Each poster was designed by Mr. Reinhart’s class with specific spaces of the school in mind. In this way, the poster art at Palmerston acts as an art installation to engage the whole school, suggesting an action for change in the messages that they convey.

Primrose Elementary School

At Primrose, grade 6 students used digital storytelling tools to create rants, communicating actions for change through social justice themes.

Primrose students created video rants for the Equity through the Arts project, May 2019.

To engage in social justice thinking students examined ideas of how identity is connected to privilege and oppression.  From here, students dove deep into examples of discrimination and oppression looking specifically at visual prompts offered through Unlearn posters.  This led to classroom discussions around the importance of social justice and advocacy that were reflective of students individual interests and experiences.

Primrose PS students explored Ubuntu cards and thumballs, as well as the Ladder of Inference. Through their play with Ubuntu and the thumballs, the students examined community and connections, while discovering new things about each other. Using the Ladder of Inference, they learned to make their thinking explicit and considered how different people can experience the same event and come to different conclusions.

Primrose PS students’ rants were created to communicate actions for change through social justice themes, as students reflected on their chosen unlearn poster. The rants share an imprint of who the students are, their perspective, and suggest an action for change in the messages that they communicate. 

Gateway Drive Public School

At Gateway, grade 8 students made creative renderings after interacting with the Unlearn posters. The works of art they created shared parts of their identifies and suggested an action for change.

Gateway PS students created works of art for the Equity through the Arts project, May 2019.

The students moved through the focus on identity, privilege and oppression and engaged with deep interest in an Unlearn poster gallery walk.  Sharing their voices and reflecting on their own experiences and knowledge, students discussed what social justice and advocacy could and should look like.

Gateway students were introduced to the idea that important learning comes from experiences – big and small – especially when we are given opportunity to consider and reflect. Students were introduced to the PIN network and other opportunities to engage in volunteerism and learn about community resources supporting equity and inclusion.

Students then expressed their identities and emotions through colour using a co-created Sii Palette. The Sii Palette represents Self Awareness, Inspiration and an Inclusive classroom and is an arts based approach to supporting students with communicating emotions through colours, as colours and meaning are determined by an individual or collaboratively as a class. The identity texts challenge you to reflect on how your identity impacts your view of social justice.

Students and staff from all three schools will continue this work in their classrooms, asking reflective questions such as how can we dig deeper into the issues of equity and inclusion, critical thinking and social justice, and how can we honour and respond to student voice to encourage active participation in learning about these issues. Staff hope to continue this work next year as well. 

The student work is currently on display in the Guelph Board Office. 

Art from an equity, social justice and experiential learning project is on display at the UGDSB's Guelph Board Office, June 7, 2019.

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