Imagine a classroom where the students not only get to learn by reading and writing, but also through movement and sound. By using their bodies to create images and soundscapes a group of Regina students have used art to address important social issues.

Racism and immigration are themes that were explored by Grade 7 and 8 students at École Connaught Community School with their teacher Tara Dryburgh, and at George Lee Elementary School with their teacher Tammy Kadler over the past several weeks. Their work is part of on-going project being led by Daya Madhur. Madhur works as a substitute teacher, but when she isn’t doing that, she works with students as an artist.

The project is part of a conference and festival called Improvisation and Mobility presented by the International Institute for Critical Studies of Improvisation, which has a Regina branch at the University of Regina. Madhur was asked to create a piece that centered on the theme of mobility and will be performed at the conference in May.

“I wanted to look at the human aspect of mobility and I was particularly inspired by the idea that Saskatchewan is landlocked and that everybody that has come here has come here for a reason,” said Madhur.

Immigration became a large part of the conversation at Connaught and George Lee, which began when the two classes exchanged hand-drawn postcards and personal stories about their families, heritage and communities. The students then brought the stories to life through improvised tableaus, body percussion and soundscapes. Madhur also had the students explore what they thought Saskatchewan sounded like.

“There were so many amazing and beautiful lessons that came out of even just hearing these students talk about their story of immigration, their story of coming to Saskatchewan. Some of them speak to the hardship that they’ve seen and experienced, but others almost make light-hearted jokes and comments,” said Madhur.

Madhur said some of the stories students have shared speak to the racism and fear of racism that still exists in Saskatchewan.

“I hope that we can have students that are a little more self-aware of what’s happening in our world, but also can show empathy and compassion for one another and can see past race or colour or religious beliefs,” said Madhur.

“I hope that if we can create critical thought here, that we can see these larger impacts in our community,” she said.

The next stages of the project is to go through all the art created by the students, including their postcards, journal entries, and poetry, and to create a script that the students will bring to life through movement, dance and drama. Through the experiences and ideas of the students, the piece will represent what Madhur calls the “prairie heartbeat.” Students from each school who wish to be involved in the final piece can volunteer.

Tara Dryburgh works at Connaught and has been a teacher for 19 years. She has been working along side Madhur to create a safe space for the students to express themselves.

“I want them to know what’s going on and I want to do it in a way that’s engaging and interesting for them,” said Dryburgh.

She said she has also worked to incorporate the themes explored with Madhur into other aspects of the curriculum.

“If they can get it through the arts, languages, and social studies, and incorporate all of that into learning something that expands their horizons and broadens their awareness of the issues surrounding our communities in Canada, I think it’s a win-win situation,” she said.

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