Big Project of Heart thanks go out to Courtney Richard, music teacher at Westboro Elementary School in Sherwood Park, Alberta, for this excellent report!
Our journey with Project of Heart has left us feeling excited, grateful, wondering…what is the word to describe a project like this? It is a project of truth. It is a project of reconciliation. We have learned, we have grown, we have been inspired; we took our time to ensure that we put our very best effort into a project that meant so much.
It started with a full day teacher professional development session with Charlene Bearhead. I, the music teacher for Westboro Elementary, attended this meeting to learn about incorporating more Indigenous teachings and ways of knowing into our classrooms. Charlene showed a video of a song that students at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary had created with N’we Jinan artists called “Important to Us.” She also shared Project of Heart. It was the first time I had heard of this project and I knew that I had been called to action and that we, as a school body, needed to do something.
The following year we began intentionally working with our students to teach about residential schools. What were they? Why did they exist? How were Indigenous peoples affected? How has our Canadian society been impacted as a result of these schools? We, both staff and parents, learned alongside the children. Our students saw the injustices that had occurred, but also saw that one step in moving forward is for all of us to come together to stand as one. And so began our Project of Heart. Not through tiles, or through video, but through song.
We began our process brainstorming with Elder Wilson Bearhead what message we wanted for our song. It was our students’ talent, hard work, and creativity that took our vision and turned it into reality. Our song speaks of the past, the present, and the future. It encourages all cultures to come together to “Stand As One.” I am so proud of what our students were able to achieve. We hope that it inspires others to recognize no matter what age they are, we all have a voice and we all can make a difference in our country’s road to reconciliation. Our song and accompanying music video can be seen above this post.
It took a full school year to complete steps 1-3 of Project of Heart, but we made sure the following school year that we would fulfill all components of this project. It is true that we must apply what we have learned. Our project was a learning journey in and of itself, but what we do with this project extends the learning and takes it to a higher level. We listened to Rev. Mary Battaja’s survivor story (http://wherearethechildren.ca/en/stories/#story_2) and are grateful to Where Are The Children for filming so many stories that we can learn from. We chose to use the project we created as our social justice action. How can we continue to share our message? How can we take action by sharing our song through many different avenues so the message does not become lost or forgotten? We: posted it to our school website, shared on our district website, shared with friends and family, invited media to attend its release, shared with other teachers across the province, and promoted its use at conferences. Our job has not ended and in the years to come we hope to continue to work towards sharing our message of strength in unity. In doing so, it is our hope that it may spark a few others to do the same. Maybe one day we will all be able to look back at our past and see that we all did come together to Stand. As. One.