Masks, Movement and Mentorship: The VSB and Emily Carr University Partnership

It's a rainy Tuesday afternoon outside Edith Cavell Elementary school. The bell has long since rung and while the main halls of the picturesque school house are empty, one of the school's basement classrooms is buzzing. It's one of the first weeks of "Imaginary Friends" one of a dozen new after-school programs developed as part of a formalized partnership between Emily Carr University of Art and Design and the Vancouver School Board's West 1 Community School Team.

Once a week, 10 Kindergarten and Grade 1 Cavell students are joined by five youth leader volunteers from Eric Hamber and an Emily Carr University arts student. During the hour long program, the class explores the power of dance, visual arts and storytelling with one creative curriculum. The lesson gives students an extra helping of arts every week.

"Arts education is so invaluable for all students," says Marisol Petersen, a Community Schools Coordinator. "Visual languages are a central element for many young students and they are critical for our cultural society."

Today is mask-making day. Students first work with youth leaders to envision the movements of their "imaginary friend". Then it's time to use crayons, markers, glue and coloured paper to craft their masks.

The "imaginary friends" program is one of many Community School Team programs happening around the district. It's an exciting opportunity for many students to get creative in a safe and fun environment after school. For the Eric Hamber students, it's an excellent opportunity to play a leadership and mentorship role. After all, for a kindergarten student, a Grade 10 is a grown-up who in turn is instructed by an Emily Carr University student. For organizers, it is the "trimentorship" nature of the program that's so unique and compelling.

"Our youth leader's role is to take direction from our Emily Carr University student instructors and work with elementary students to motivate them, lead them in games and provide general supervision and mentorship," says Petersen. "One of the greatest things about the program is that our secondary youth leaders often come back to volunteer with our Community School Teams after they graduate to volunteer as adults. It sustains connections and is very inspiring!"

The program at Cavell is captained by Emily Carr student Meaghen Buckley. A former dance teacher, Buckley had long been interested in mixing her passion of visual arts with movement and education. Buckley said that for her friends at Emily Carr, the opportunity to jump into classrooms was an amazing opportunity.

"This really is a great program and it's a great opportunity," says Buckley. "I'm grateful to the Vancouver School Board for making it happen."

The programs will run from October until early December. This year 128 students in kindergarten to Grade 7 enrolled in arts programs offered in partnership with Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Parents interested in getting their students involved should contact Marisol Petersen at mpetersen@vsb.bc.ca.

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