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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 6, May/June 2004

Art and social responsibility

by Anita Sortome

Building socially responsible school communities is a common goal of school growth plans. In the fall of 2003, staff at David Thompson Secondary School, in Vancouver, embarked on a project to increase student awareness of good virtues and citizenship. The vision was to artistically represent the key words Character Education throughout the school on walls, floors, in stairwells, or on banners. The works would reflect the cross-cultural virtues that our students and their respective families value. Interested students, apprised of the project, began formulating their ideas. Our elementary feeder schools and parents were included in the venture to create a more socially responsible school community.

Although the proposed grant that was the impetus for the scheme was not awarded to the school, the plan needed to be pursued and completed. Funds were generously donated by Associate Superintendent Gary Little and the school Parent Advisory Council. Artist-in-Residence Richard Tetrault presented his ideas to the students and sponsors Fraser Ballantyne, Karen Naso, and Anita Sortome. Silk banners would artistically represent the following five words: honesty, kindness, respect, co-operation, and responsibility.

Soon the students began to discuss the articulation with our seven feeder elementary schools so that they would feel more connected to David Thompson when they joined our school community. Our student group named itself the "DT Connections Team" in honour of the relationships that would develop. The student chairs of the project, Jennifer Lee and Samantha Epp, visited the elementary schools to speak about the venture, and the plans were agreed upon.

Groups travelled to the elementary schools or met at David Thompson to map out their banners. Fonts, words, pictures, and colours were chosen. Foam molds were cut and then dipped in paint. Richard Tetrault gave countless hours and tremendous guidance and assistance in the creation and printing of the banners. Each elementary school produced two banners and duplicated one of theirs to be displayed at David Thompson. Of the five designed by Thompson students, each elementary school received one. A beautiful and meaningful collection of work will soon adorn the hallways in the eight schools.

The first official unveiling of the banners took place on March 31 at the Roundhouse Community Centre during the Art Scan 2004 Showcase. On April 22, Grade 8 and 9 students at David Thompson gathered in the auditorium for a formal assembly. Superintendent Chris Kelly and Associate Superintendent Gary Little each addressed the students on various aspects of social responsibility and the valuable legacy of the banner project. Jennifer Lee outlined the history of the venture, and then each banner was illuminated. At the same time, the winning entry from a corresponding poetry contest was read. The assembly showcased a cross-curricular venture that was student-driven, involved 120 students, and was school-wide. After the assembly, the students returned to their classrooms to complete an in-class group assignment on the five words.

A common language that clarifies what we value and what constitutes meaningful relationships has been introduced with the banners. As we admire those inspired creations, we hope that the display will serve as the foundation of David Thompson’s socially responsible community.

Anita Sortome teaches at David Thompson Secondary School, Vancouver.

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