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From art to smart
Students at St. Joseph School sign up for new Learning through the Arts program

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, June 16, 2012

St. Joseph School is implementing a new program next year that will use art to help students gain a more enhanced understanding of the core subjects.

NNSL photo/graphic

Gillian Dawe-Taylor, principal of St. Joseph School, is implementing a program next year which will allow a group of students to learn academic disciplines through art. - Miranda Scotland/NNSL photo

Students in the Learning through the Arts program will be taught science, language arts, social studies, religion and health through hands-on expressions, such as painting or photography. The program is being offered to Grade 6, 7 and 8 students in lieu of being part of a standard class.

"Kids would be able to express their learning in a variety of ways outside of the traditional ways," said school principal Gillian Dawe-Taylor.

For instance, she said, instead of a teacher getting in front of the class and talking about population he might do a role-playing exercise. He could put four classes in one room and then ask them to do a Sudoku puzzle while dealing with the overcrowded, hot and generally uncomfortable space. Afterward, they could discuss how it felt and thus be able to imagine being in a country with similar conditions.

"It's about finding ways to make deep connections with kids Instead of having someone at the front of the board saying here are the reasons for population explosion, this is what it looks like if you're in an overcrowded country. It's really co-constructing it with them or getting it from them," said Dawe-Taylor.

Students a part of the program will be tested in a variety of different ways, including written exams. Also, all of the art projects done in the class will relate back to the curriculum and students will be expected to articulate what they have learned. Math, core French and gym will not be taught using art. Students will also be able to choose three fine arts and three exploratory course choices per year.

This isn't the first time a program such as this one has been implemented in Canada. In Calgary, Dawe-Taylor visited four middle schools, which have been running similar programs for a number of years.

"These other schools have found that (the students) score off the charts because if you understand what you've learned, if you've mastered content you can apply it in other ways," she said. "So to take a pencil and paper test is not an issue for kids who deeply understand their learning."

Dawe-Taylor said she expects between 20 and 25 kids to sign up to be a part of the class, which she said is the first of its kind in Yellowknife. Students have already showed interest.

"We have students whose learning styles have shown us that they need something like this and they would do well in something like this," said Dawe-Taylor.

"Therefore, it would be prudent for me to offer it just like I offer literacy support for students who need that, I offer Hockey Academy for those kids, we have Do Edaezhe, we have all sorts of things happening and this is just an area that we needed some focus."

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