Innovative First Nations Art Project Leads to Big Gains for Champlain Heights Students

Over the past three months, artist Susanne McCallum has been paying regular visits to the classrooms of Champlain Heights Elementary as the school's Artist-in-Residence. McCallum's program "Brush Strokes with Susan" integrates First Nations storytelling and themes into artwork. The program also teaches students about First Nations-themed life-skills like cooking bannock and baking muffins and other goodies.

"The result was an amazing, inclusive, cross-curricular experience," says Peter Evans, Principal of Champlain Heights Elementary.

Evans says the program was particularly important and well received because of the diverse learning needs in the school. Approximately 25 percent of the school's students are in ESL, 30 percent have learning disabilities and 10 percent are identified First Nations.

"We are convinced that providing a level playing field for children with learning difficulties and special needs will empower these children and improve their self-esteem," he says.

During the three months of school visits and work, 247 Champlain students got a firsthand chance to explore First Nations culture through art and cooking. In March, the school held an art show where they successfully auctioned off the hundreds of art pieces created by their K-7 kids. The auction raised over $1,000. While the unsold work will be posted proudly on a spirit wall in the school, Evans says the money raised will be pumped back into next year's program (next time preparing traditional smoked salmon is on the cooking menu). 

Evans says particular thanks for the wild success of the program should go to the Vancouver Foundation for providing the $3,000 of seed money to kick off the program as well as the teachers who spearheaded the initiative.

"Without sponsor teachers Angela Angel-Lara and Susan Mirhady, this program would never have gotten off the ground. It was essentially there ideas," says Evans. "Their appreciation for special needs kids, student success, and First Nations inclusion was instrumental."

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