By Darren Lum
Archie Stouffer Elementary School students are being gifted an opportunity by local environment group Environment Haliburton (EH) to have their environmental consciousness raised with an artistic experience this coming Earth Day on April 22.
Three intermediate classes (Grade 6 to 8 students) at the school will each participate in a 90-minute session, as part of a virtual workshop with long-time environmental activist, politician, songwriter, playwright and musician James Gordon, who will present and then work with each class to write and perform a song based on Earth Day themes, which will be recorded and sent back to ASES after.
Gordon’s hope for the participating students is they develop the confidence to take what they have learned and try songwriting on their own.
“I’ve been thrilled with how many times this happens. Since I’ve been doing this for many years, I sometimes get CDs in the mail or download links from young people who say ‘you came to my Grade 5 class and it inspired me to take up songwriting. Here is the result!’ Also, I hope that by writing a song about Earth Day/ environmental/ climate change themes that their own awareness of these issues are raised,” he wrote in an email.
Before the workshop, the classes were asked to pick and overarching theme related to Earth Day or the environment. The goal was to finish the day with three different collaborated songs.
Gordon said he’s led hundreds of these kind of workshops before and discovered that students learn that their opinions and feelings matter. There is also a discovery about the songwriting process, which becomes an accessible art form and they learn the value of collaboration, co-operation, listening and sharing ideas.
He adds with new technology the written song can be posted on YouTube or on social media platforms to “make a real impact.”
EH board member Eric Lillius said this opportunity is possible because of Dr. Dan Longboat, who made an appearance for the summer speaker series hosted by EH in Minden in 2019. He asked the payment owed to him for his appearance be used for school programming.
Typically, Lillius said, the organization has been focused on reaching adults, so the environmentalist activist organization used this opportunity to facilitate an outreach workshop to raise consciousness of the climate emergency facing the world among youth.
“It becomes a teaching moment for the teachers and then ‘OK, how do we integrate that?’ And what these kids will produce kind of reflects what they’re thinking about … think about environmental themes. Think about the environment. For us it’s a climate emergency. For James it’s a climate emergency. For governments not so much,” he said.
He adds there could be a ripple effect from this, which could extend beyond the students to their families.
“We’re just dropping a rock into the pool and the ripples will go out,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Lillius had thought of bringing in Gordon more than a year ago because he was working on his Emergency Climate Musical and was going to be in the area for the related planned tour. The pandemic delayed things, but with students back in school the workshop was planned for this year. He adds EH would consider more learning opportunities like this in the future, but without the Longboat donation this wouldn’t be possible. EH welcomes donations to plan to offer these kinds of educational opportunities.
ASES principal Jane Austin said this virtual workshop led by Gordon is important for three reasons:
“One, building awareness of local volunteer organizations and an understanding of their mandate enhances service learning and community leadership. Two, extra-curricular learning opportunities enhance the Ontario curriculum and students’ understanding and awareness of local, national and global issues. Three, the need for all of us to be environmental stewards is vital to the health of the community and the planet. Understanding of global warming is the first step to making a difference and being change-makers for our students.”
Austin continues with, “I hope that the students learn about climate change, their carbon footprint and how they might work as individuals to make a positive impact on the Earth. I hope that they glean some knowledge about song-writing and the power of music to convey a message. I hope that they enhance their teamworking and networking skills through the process.”
Gordon said these kinds of workshops provide an opportunity for discovery by everyone involved.
“Kids write great songs! They often have no preconceived notion around cliches, pop formulas etc. … so they write from the heart. I’ve often found that sometimes the teachers are surprised at which students take on a leadership role in the process. Not the usual suspects, but sometimes shyer students who really latch onto the possibilities of this medium to communicate and to shine! I’ve learned that kids can write good songs without musical training too. Anyone can do it!” he wrote.