Why do we value active citizenship? And how can stories effect change? As Langevin Grade 6 students zeroed in on the persuasive power of writing, they found beehives of mighty story-making within a few steps of the City Hall School classroom.
Calgary’s fabulous new downtown library is just a hop across the street from the Municipal Building, in East Village. There students met Anna Dunne-Hussey, Library School coordinator, who encouraged them to remember books that have opened their eyes and their minds. Students recalled many titles, and a standout was The Breadwinner, Deborah Ellis’s compelling novel about a girl in Taliban-era Afghanistan.
East Village is also home to Loft 112, a collaborative and supportive space for writers, readers, artists, and storytellers. Lisa Murphy-Lamb, a writer and editor who facilitates creative happenings there, introduced students to poems that spark change. One was about low-income residents displaced by neighbourhood gentrification, while another was written by a local teen who questions the way people perceive her. With Lisa’s help, students brainstormed about change and connected their ideas to others in the room.
Just a few steps out the front door of the Municipal Building is the weekly (free!) ProArts concert, where the Langevin students discovered singer-songwriters -- another community expressing their opinions. Little Miss Higgins and Bessie Wapp told stories with their songs, including one about women’s frustration with traditional roles.
Back in the City Hall School classroom, students met Sam Hester. Sam is a keen observer of the world at her doorstep, and you might have seen her work around town -- maybe during a meeting about the Green Line, in the online Sprawl, or in the Ramsay community newsletter. Students learned that Sam used to think Calgary was boring, but communities in other countries were interesting. “When you think things are special or important, you pay attention to them in a different way,” she said. Then she turned her attention to the extraordinary hiding in the ordinary, right in her own neighbourhood and city. Sometimes Sam takes notes to capture others’ opinions, and sometimes she uses cartoons and words to voice her own ideas.
Throughout the week, the students considered ways to contribute to a community, such as by serving in public office or on a public committee, community association, or jury. Downtown exploration helped the Grade 6 class to notice problems, needs, and opportunities. Finally, the Calgary Foundation’s Julie Black shared inspiring examples of community building and engagement by Calgarians of all ages (including classmates from their very own Langevin School).
An energizing week of rich discussions about civic action, including the power of one person and the power of words.
At the library, students considered quotations about the power of books, and wrote titles of powerful books they’d read.
Sam Hester illustrated the transformation of her thinking, from Calgary as a boring city, to Calgary as a fascinating city. We left the graphics on the board overnight, to see if students could recall the meaning of each graphic the next day. They absolutely did!
~ Sheila Bean, City Hall School Coordinator