Finding connection through the arts - read about artsPlace's mental wellness work in local schools.
“Coming out of the pandemic, everyone is more aware of the importance of mental wellness,” says Nicole Fougère, Programs Director at artsPlace.
So, for a second year, artsPlace partnered with Right from the Start (RFTS) to help the students and their teachers build mental health capacity through the arts.
The program connects Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) teachers and RFTS Success Coaches with art educators to co-create lessons that respond to the needs of students in the Bow Valley, says Mary Weighell, RFTS Program Manager.
“It’s a highly collaborative process that involves working together to come up with the best program and decide on the themes that will be presented,” Mary explains. “With [the students at Lawrence Grassi Middle School], we used theatre to draw out the chosen themes.”
And who better to work with the students than puppeteer, musician, and educator, Tangle McClaron! Tangle’s love of theatre has taken her from studios to stages, and classrooms to boardrooms. After developing the program with the Success Coach, she met with the Grade 7 and 8 students over six lessons to explore power dynamics, physicality, and non-verbal communication through the context of dramatic play.
“There were some days as an educator when I would offer activities and we’d try things and I’d walk away thinking, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if any of that hit home.’ And then there were other days when we would have these really amazing moments of connection, revelation, and sharing,” says Tangle.
She recalls an exercise in which the students showed real empathy. They lined up on two sides with an empty space in the middle, like a hallway, says Tangle. She asked them to role play being snide by giving someone nasty looks or whispering mean things as they walked by. One of the students would walk down and act out what it might feel like to have that energy thrown at them. “It was fascinating to see the change in physicality of the person walking down the aisle,” she says. Next, she asked the kids to use words and actions that might uplift the person walking down the hallway, like giving them a pat on the back.
“You could see this incredible transformation in their body language,” says Tangle. “Even though it was dramatic play, they were able to feel that energy… they weren’t performing then.”
“It was a really profound opportunity for the kids to see how their words and actions impact others, but also to feel the impact of others,” says Tangle. “It opened up some vibrant opportunities for discussion.”
But it wasn’t just the students who were learning. As a professional development opportunity, the program gives students, Success Coaches, and educators new tools to support themselves and each other. “Partnering with artsPlace not only benefits the students, but us as Success Coaches and teachers working in the school,” says Mary. “To have access to their time, talent, and expertise is a real gift.”
RIPPLES OF KINDNESS
As part of an ongoing collaboration with Right from the Start, Grade 2 and 3 students at Elizabeth Rummel School in Canmore staged an original play written by Tangle.
The premise was simple but impactful, says Nicole Fougère, Programs Director at artsPlace. “There’s a tree in the center of the village and when we are not kind to it, the tree dies. But when we care for it with our words and treat it like our relation, the tree thrives.”
“They put the play together, made the costumes, and performed it outside,” recalls Tangle.
“Throughout the process, we saw them come together and work really hard as a group to tell this story about kindness, and share it with their school and their community.”
“The teachers loved it. The students loved it. The people that were able to see the play loved it,” says Mary Weighell, RFTS Program Manager.
“It got rave reviews!”
Meanwhile, Grade 4 and 7 students at Banff Elementary School partnered with artsPlace artist Lucie Bause to explore the power of kindness through art-making.
In a community-building activity, the students shared their thoughts on kindness while creating original ripple paintings. “They talked about how acts of kindness perpetuate other acts of kindness, like a drop of water creating ripples on the surface of a lake,” says Nicole.
“Inspired by that, they used undulating shades of blue to create beautiful moving works of art that looked like ripples on the surface of water.”
Part of the project was to connect the paintings “to understand how each student is part of the whole waterway of kindness in the classroom,” Nicole adds. The students then photographed their works side-by-side with thoughts on what it means to be kind.